Crowdsourcing and Location Based Social Networks

Location-based social networking has gained attention since Facebook entered the arena. In addition to Facebook and Foursquare, similar applications include Gowalla, Google Latitude, Yahoo Koprol, and others. All of these services share a focus on connecting friends (e.g., “Looks like Sarah is in the bookstore down the street; let’s go say hi.”) and marketing (e.g., “There is a suit sale in this mall, and I need a new suit.”). While I expect both purposes to continue to dominate location-based social networks, I see a more powerful application.

Imagine that you are a small business owner; while reconciling your end of month finances, you have an accounting issue (i.e., you can’t figure out how to reconcile the checks on your desk with your financial software report). All you need is 30 minutes with an accountant to review your documents and let you know if you have missed something minor. A quick login to a web service indicates that there are five accountants in your immediate area. I’m not talking about accountant offices, but rather live human accountants who might be available for a quick job. You send an invitation to three accountants who are rated highly by other members and agree to pay $75 for a 30-minute consultation.

Susan, one of the accountants, gets an alert regarding your invitation through an application on her smartphone. She is sitting in a coffee shop and welcomes the opportunity to earn some money. She is the first to accept your invitation. Ten minutes later (she finishes her coffee first), Susan walks into your office and introduces herself. You explain your problem, and she reviews your spreadsheets. She makes some recommendations, gets you back on track, and is on her way. Upon rating her service, the agreed upon fee is automatically withdrawn from your account and placed into her account. Susan rates your interaction, and she returns to her free afternoon.

There are clearly a number of issues with the above scenario (how can you trust a random person to look over your finances?) that must be addressed, but I hope you see the potential. This is not limited to small business engagements. This type of effort could also work with a scientist in Florida studying tree growth who needs pictures of specific locations in California, Alaska, and Maine for a research project. In addition, this type of location-based crowdsourcing could be utilized by a political campaign that needs to get a candidate’s supporters to a last-minute rally—the potential is endless.

In the immediate future, location-based services will continue to focus on connecting friends and marketing to them. In the long-term, I hope to see much more.

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