Analyst: Google Latitude Not a Threat to Facebook, MySpace

Google's Latitude application brings the future of location-based services one step closer, but does Latitude pose a threat to social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace? One analyst says no, but that's not really the point.

Imagine a world where your mobile phone not only connects you to social networks and recognizes your location but also is able to provide you with suggestions for contextual, location-based commercial interests. While Google's Latitude application, announced on Wednesday, is just a baby step in that direction, one Forrester Research analyst said that will be the future of location-based services on your mobile phone.

"This means software developers will build applications around the triangulation of information; personal behaviors and preferences, your social group of friends and family and your location," said Jeremiah Owyang, a Forrester Research senior analyst in social computing and the author of the blog Web Strategy. "I'm thinking about [Google's mobile phone platform] Android and how it connects to it--you can expect Android to come with Latitude as a default software feature in the future."
Latitude is an application that gives users the ability to track friends, family and colleagues via Google Maps on a PC or mobile device. Already available on BlackBerry, S60 and Windows Mobile devices, and coming soon to the Apple iPhone through Google Mobile App, Owyang said Latitude in its current form is merely a stepping stone, and not yet the be-all-end-all of mobile social networking.
"Google's a little bit slower to come into this space, but they want to deliver things with quality," he said, admitting that he couldn't actually get Latitide to work on his mobile phone. "It might just be a Nokia thing, though," he suggests. Owyang is referring to companies such as Loopt, which provides a cell phone-based GPS sharing system that allows users to visualize one another using their cell phones and share information. "This technology isn't anything that new, they just haven't put it all together yet."
When that happens-which Owyang predicts is unlikely to occur before the end of the year or perhaps even two years, the future of contextual, location-based marketing and advertising arrives. "Say you and your friends from out of town are in a location in a city and you want to meet up; when this all comes together, it will recommend a restaurant based on what it knows about you and your friends' preferences," he said. "Like a good Thai restaurant."
Owyang said this technology doesn't pose a particular threat to social networks such as Facebook or MySpace, as some reports have suggested. "It's just tying different applications together," he said. "This is an advertising play in the longer run." Google is trying to corner social networking through other means, like OpenSocial, by doing a lateral and allowing the information to be shared, Owyang said. "This is not a threat to Facebook or MySpace, per se," he said. "Google is itself a social network, and in fact they're much larger, we just don't perceive them as such."
He said Google is also taking the right approach to assuaging privacy concerns by adopting an opt-in model, which allows users to specifically determine the level of openness they want.

"It's a little scary. This is just a big change, so it's going to take people a while to get used to it," he said. "First it will be just close friends and family, and then people will open up to it, but that will take a while."
Patterns of adoption will be instantly recognizable based on demographics such as age, he predicts. "Older generations get freaked out about stuff like this, and are very concerned about privacy," he said. "Generation Y is more likely to openly share information, and we have data showing that; you will definitely see patterns of adoption around this."
In the end, the powerful combination of technologies Google has developed will create a powerful engine not only for mobile social networking, but more importantly, monetization. This means Google will be able to provide advertisers with highly contextual and personalized opportunities.
"When you put this triangulation [location, personal preferences and social group] together, you tend to end up with very specific targeted advertising ability," he said. "What this means is in the future, ads will get contextually relevant that they won't be considered ads, they'll be considered as relevant information."