Future Tunnel

For all the criticism Google+ gets as a derivative and forced social network, lately there’s been a growing chorus of pundits singing its praises and, shockingly, predicting its success. Most do so by pointing out all the incremental value it adds, or will one day add, to Google’s search and other previously stand-alone products. Yet, there’s one area of massive opportunity that few people have mentioned, where Google+ is missing out: location.

But not just any old boring location check-in service, a la Foursquare circa 2010. Google+ should own future check-ins. And it should use a combination of its Google Now predictive magic, network of local merchants, Zagat data, network of brand advertisers, and ever increasing “social” data to add value at every turn.

Think about Google’s overarching goals. Despite its broad initiatives, the company still earns 96 percent of its multi-billion dollar revenue through advertising. To preserve and grow its cash cow, the company needs to know as much about as many of the world’s Internet users as possible, and thus serve more targeted (and more expensive) ads. One of its key strategies for doing so has been to link its various disconnected products through the hub of Google+, and to continue offering new services that keep us spending time and sharing data within its ecosystem. Guess what a Google+location mashup would accomplish?

There’s a startup here in Los Angeles that’s been working on this project for nearly a year now, and has made an impressive product. That company, GonnaBe, launched publicly shortly before the December holidays. Let me be the first one to say that Google should buy them, or dare I say it (sorry Hank), duplicate them, immediately, and inject serious steroids into the project.

The crux of the opportunity, and the reason this is such a natural fit, comes down to Google’s existing calendar, email, and mobile products. The company already knows who we talk to and about what, what activities we’re interested in, where we’ve been, and where we’re planning to go – not to mention it has most of the rest of the “world’s information” already organized. It’s astonishing to me that it hasn’t parlayed this into some sort of killer location product.

The GonnaBe app and user experience are well designed. The small team has come up with some paradigm-shifting user interface concepts which make it a delight to use. But it’s the concept – something that’s been attempted before, but whose time seems time seems to have finally come – that Google really needs. We are in an era where mobile broadband and increasingly powerful smartphones are all but ubiquitous, not to mention the fact that your average consumer is for the first time comfortable with the previously frightening concept of sharing their location across an online social graph. In other words, the market is ripe.

GonnaBe works by allowing users to “Check-In,” or announce, places that they’ll be in the future. For example, “Michael Carney will be at PandoMonthly at Madrone Studios in San Francisco on January 10, 2013 at 6pm.” Other followers within the user’s network – posts can be made publicly or privately, and all followers must be approved – can then view a map, which is scrollable according to date and time, to figure out what everyone they know is doing, and equally as important, what events are taking place that they should consider attending.

It’s the ultimate answer to, “What should we do next Friday?”

Equally importantly, venues and brands can promote upcoming events like concerts, festivals, and even lowly happy hours. GonnaBe, for example, has already partnered with Ticketmaster and Brazilian Anheuser Busch subsidiary Skol beer to promote their thousands of respective events. Many events promoted through the network include discounts or special offers. The same value can be pushed to users when they schedule a non-promoted event. “Going out to dinner on Saturday with the boys? Here’s a coupon for half off beers at the bar next door.”

Is there anyone better positioned than Google to leverage this opportunity and deliver a killer product? Google’s even been proving it has serious mobile design chops, something most never thought they’d admit.

Before you get your panties in a bunch about the frightening privacy implications of the endless data that Google knows about each of us, know that I’ve pointed this out myself before. But like it or not, this opportunity makes too much sense to ignore. Besides, my previous critiques were not based simply on the fact that Google knows so much about us, but rather that it’s unclear how it will use that data going forward.

If Google creates a killer value-added future location app, is explicit in which underlying data sources it will be using to power it, and what happens to the data afterward, then great. I would be all for having the option of making my event discovery and planning that much more magical.