Another company, called Hurricane Party, grounds its location-based service much more in the real world. However, its CEO and cofounder, René Pinnell, also complains that “social media is so antisocial these days,” and says he wants to facilitate real social interactions between friends. Hurricane Party is an iPhone app to help friends get together spontaneously, and it aims for that goal more directly than Foursquare, which can produce get-togethers as a by-product of checking in. Pinnell says that his service focuses on showing users events that are happening in their area within the next 24 hours. It sorts them to show events the user has already committed to attending, events the users’ friends are attending, and events that are open to the public. Users can choose to find a party or start a party, Pinnell says.
The app is full of features that help people communicate with each other and arrange to get together. Though it’s optimized for people to communicate through the app, it also makes it easy for people to send text messages to other friends who may not use the service themselves.
Pinnell does hope to support Hurricane Party through deals with retailers, but he believes the app’s angle will encourage deals that benefit users and retailers equally. For example, Hurricane Party worked with one Austin hot dog shop, Frank, to design an offer that would encourage groups to come in for breakfast—commonly a slow time. The shop offered a special pairing of specialty coffee and bacon to groups that hosted breakfast get-togethers there.
There’s still a long way to go before location-based services spread beyond the SXSW set and into the mainstream. The services available today “are interesting games,” says Julie Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research who studies consumer mobile activities. However, she points out that only about one percent of U.S. adults are regular users of such services.
What’s more, businesses often have a difficult time figuring out how to interact with location-based services. Large companies are likely to want to control the end-user experience, Ask says, and may not want to trust a third party with their customers. Smaller businesses may be overwhelmed by the variety of services available and the level of hype in the market. And they may not want to play host to a bunch of people playing games at their locations. “There need to be tangible financial results for the business at the end of the day,” Ask says.