Location-Based Services Used by 4% of Americans: Pew Study

A Pew Research Center report finds location-based services are used by a small, but growing, number of Americans.

In its first report on the use of "geosocial" or location-based services, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life project finds that four percent of online adults use a service such as Foursquare or Gowalla that allows them to share their location with friends and to find others who are nearby. On any given day, one percent of Internet users are using these services, according to the company's research.

This is the second survey of the Pew Internet Project to ask about such location-based services. The current number shows little change from the first time this question was asked, in a May 2010 survey, when five percent of adult Internet users said they had used such a site. The survey found seven percent of the adults who go online with their mobile phone use a location-based service, while eight percent of online adults ages 18-29 use location-based services, significantly more than online adults in any other age group.

Location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla use Internet-connected mobile devices' geolocation capabilities to let users notify others of their locations by "checking in" to that location. Location-based services often run on stand-alone software applications (apps) on most major GPS-enabled smartphones or other devices. Some of these geosocial services emphasize social networking functions, and can notify friends on the service when the user is nearby.

The survey found men are significantly more likely than women to use location-based services (six percent of online men versus three percent of online women), and Hispanics (English- and Spanish-speaking) are more likely than other ethnic groups to use these services (10 percent of online Hispanics do, compared to three percent of whites and five percent of blacks). The company noted there were no statistically significant differences by household income or educational attainment.

"Wireless Internet users, unsurprisingly, are also more likely to use location-based services, especially those who connect to the Internet with their cell phone," wrote report authors Kathryn Zickuhr and Aaron Smith. "Seven percent of all adults who go online with their mobile phone say they use a location-based service, as well as five percent of all wireless Internet users."

The authors pointed out location-based services are similar in some respects to status updating services such as Twitter, in which users communicate by short messages sent online or by text. Status updating services have grown in popularity over the past few years, from six percent of online adults saying they had used such a service in Aug. 2008 to 24 percent in Sept. 2010.

The reported found among online adults, 62 percent use a social networking site such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. Of these social networking site users, six percent use a location-based service. Twenty-four percent of online adults use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or to see updates about others, while 10 percent of these status update site users use a location-based service-more than twice the rate of the general online population.

The report is based on the results of a telephone survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project conducted between Aug. 9 and Sept. 13, 2010. The survey was administered to a sample of 3,001 adults, age 18 and older, using a combination of landline and cellular telephones. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to the Pew Research Center.