The majority of the world’s middle class is walking around with an ever-present connected GPS device in their pockets, and business are looking for ways to capitalize on this newly available location data. Foursquare, for example spent three years gathering location data via check-ins, boosted by the gamification of badges and mayorships, all with the end goal of owning local search.

Location analytics startup Placed is taking a much more direct, if less entertaining approach to recruiting consumers: ask them nicely, and if that doesn’t work offer to donate to charity in exchange for their participation.

This is the general premise behind the company’s new product Placed Panels, which allows businesses to recruit their own “panels” of consumer participants to gather location data around their own unique interests.

“Knowing the offline behaviors for a publisher’s audience is as valuable as understanding their demographics,” says Razorfish Global Media Officer Jeff Lanctot. “Buying media based on the businesses a publisher’s audience visits will become commonplace, and I expect Placed to be the unifying currency for location.”

Placed did its own study, convincing more than 36,000 volunteers to install an app on their smartphones and let the company track them throughout the month of August. The company parsed the data gathered into an assessment of the top 10 most popular businesses in 10 US cities. Not earth-shattering stuff, but the results were actually quite interesting.

In New York City, the top three businesses, in order, were Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, and Starbucks. On the other coast in Los Angeles, they were Starbucks, Safeway, and McDonald’s. In Hot’Lanta, participants preferred WalMart, McDonald’s, and Kroger. The one I found most interesting, and even a bit shocking, was the results from my home city of Philadelphia where WaWa, a hyper-regional version of 7-Eleven was the only non-national retailer to top any list. (For the uninitiated, WaWa is a gift from the heavens and proof that someone up there wants us all to be happy…and fat).

On the surface, these findings are trivial, but stepping back they’re a simple illustration of what can be done with the new Panels product. Businesses that currently pay survey companies tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather these types of insights, can now conceive of an interesting location-related study and easily gather that data directly.

Placed allows any company to design a panel on its website in about 15 minutes and immediately start recruiting panelists via a unique URL. Participants then download a co-branded app — available on iOS and Android — that measures location and delivers nightly reports to the sponsoring company. Some companies will offer an incentive to drive participation, while others will rely on their brand goodwill or ability to mandate participation.

The company piloted this program over the last several months and has already amassed more than 200,000 downloads. If it can get a few major brands or agencies on board, these numbers could skyrocket by factors of one hundred.

It took Foursquare nearly three years to aggregate 25 million users and corresponding location data for each. Only now, says founder Dennis Crowley, is the company ready to begin delivering on its true mission of redefining local search. With Panels, Placed may shortcut the entire process by leveraging the community building efforts of its brand partners.

The company is forthright in its objectives, saying, “Placed Panels acts as the platform to recruit, measure, and analyze location data collected on a persistent basis from opted-in panelists.” The Seattle-based startup has raised $3.4 million to date from Madrona Venture Group and Shane Atchison.

“Placed Panels will bring location analytics into the mainstream, and is a requirement for any advertiser, publisher, or market researcher,” says CEO of Placed partner POSSIBLE, Shane Atchison. “Placed has compressed panel design and development from a months-long process to a fifteen minute setup, removing one of the largest  barriers to understanding the places people visit in the real world. TV, radio, and online behavior have all been quantified, and with Placed Panels, so has location.”

Placed has offered to donate $1 to an unnamed charity for each PandoDaily reader that signs up for Placed Panels in the next 14 days. To participate, signup here.