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It’s Good To Be Passive

By Michael Brown , VP, Media & Entertainment | @michael_k_brown
Jul 19, 2010

It’s good to be passive.

While this is not a true statement, in finding love, plotting your career path or driving the freeways of Los Angeles, it’s definitely true in technology.

Look at the most successful start-ups or technologies to roll out in the last 10 years – nearly every one of them has a passive element that was the game-changer for it.

Facebook only had moderate success, until they created the News Feed feature. Once people could go to one page and see everything that is going on with all their friends, their growth became explosive.

Twitter would not be nearly as successful if we had to visit the Twitter page of every person we’re following. With Twitter, the home page (or better yet, one of the many Twitter apps) brings it all to you.

RSS, recommendation engines, and even email, to a certain extent, are passive technologies. They all allow you to receive information that you might be interested in, without having to seek it out yourself.

So, with that in mind, it makes sense to think that this same logic applies to the hottest emerging technology out there… location. Foursquare, Gowalla and the other location-based services that rely on “check-ins” to make their service useful to people and attractive to business customers, won’t truly make it big until it becomes a more passive experience.

So, why hasn’t this happened yet? These companies are run by smart people, I doubt they haven’t realized the value of this, right? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it comes down to one key factor: the iPhone’s lack of multi-tasking/backgrounding.

Until now, unless you were actively running your location-based app in the foreground, you were out of luck. So why should these services bother making it more passive? No one is going to run Foursquare or Gowalla constantly, when they could be emailing, texting, playing games or taking calls.

With iOS 4 and longer battery life on the new iPhone 4, this has all changed. Now it’s feasible to have location-based apps running in the background at all times. With the proper setup options, users could choose to share location completely passively (auto-check-ins), somewhat passively (push notifications) or still utilize the old model of active check-ins.

Think about it – if I go to the Starbucks near my office every morning, I could set it as a favorite and have auto-check-ins. With every other place I visit, the system could ask permission to check me in through push notifications.

If location-based apps take advantage of the new backgrounding options, this will be the game-changer for these services.

With check-ins being as simple as pushing “yes,” we are going to see an explosion in the use of these apps. As usage grows, interest from businesses will increase exponentially, resulting in more loyalty programs. As businesses begin to reward loyal visitors more frequently, the value proposition of check-ins to users will hit the mainstream and before you know it, your grandma will be the mayor of the local beauty parlor.

In the battle of check-in supremacy, the winner will be the one who is most active around being passive.