The buzz on geolocation marketing is hot. Recently Lawrence Coburn from RateItAll released the beta version of a new project: DoubleDutch, a platform for creating your own geolocation check-in app, ala Foursquare. I connected with Lawrence to ask more questions about DoubleDutch and to get tips for marketers that want to incorporate geolocation and review services into their online marketing.
First, can you share a bit about yourself and your company RateItAll? We spoke on a panel several years ago at Pubcon and I remember that you have a great story about how your company started and really exploded with media attention.
Sure, RateItAll is a story of endurance. I ran it out of a coffee shop for years (along with a number of other niche sites). By 2007 it had started to grow to a point that I couldn’t handle it by myself. It was making decent money, but I was struggling to keep the servers up. Mathew Spolin, our CTO joined us in 2008 and we were able to go out get a little funding for it. We now have a team of seven based in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Congratulations on launching your new project, the iPhone App: DoubleDutch. I appreciate getting a pre pre alpha view of it and now you’ve really added some great features – especially the ability to white label it. What prompted you to create DoubleDutch and how is it different than Foursquare and Gowalla?
Lee, you were actually one of the first people to see DoubleDutch in the wild. We’re really excited about it – it has been called “Foursquare for the Enterprise” and “Ning for Mobile Social Networks.” We’re OK with both of those descriptions.
We had been eying location based services for a long time. I was an obsessive user of Dodgeball (the SMS precursor to Foursquare). By the time 2009 SXSW rolled around, Mathew and I were determined to do something with location. We approached Foursquare to team up on a reviews + check-ins combo, but weren’t able to get their attention.
So we set out to build the thing ourselves, leveraging RateItAll’s massive database of geo tagged data. Over the years we had signed a number of geo data partnerships, giving us a big advantage in entering the location fray.
Our goal was to put together a collection of mobile, social components that could be remixed and customized by white label partners. In addition to the check-in functionality, some of our features include game dynamics (leaderboards, achievement stickers, and “Rockstardom,”), ratings and reviews, photo uploads, Facebook / Twitter integration, and many more. This app was in development for more than 6 months and we’re quite happy with how it turned out.
Our big difference from Foursquare and Gowalla is in our emphasis on reviews. We think there is an endemic relationship between a social check-in and a review of a local business. Just as Amazon has been able to leverage sales data to convert more reviews than anyone else, we think that check-ins are the first step towards posting a review.
We also believe strongly in the concept of “The community IS the social graph.” What I mean by this is that on public networks like Foursquare or Gowalla, you need to recreate your social graph for the apps to get any value from the service. Not so on a private network like DoubleDutch. You can imagine an app white labeled for a conference like Pubcon, in which every attendee could see the check in activity of other attendees. Think about what a boon this would be for networking – no more just heading to the lobby bar and hoping for the best. And because everyone was there for Pubcon, no friending would be required.
Are widgets still sexy?
Of course! Just not as sexy as geo at the moment. In fact, I’m not posting much on Sexy Widget any more. I started a blog called Location Meme a few months ago with a friend. The folks at The Next Web took notice, and invited me to be an editor at that network’s Location blog, and that’s where I’m doing most of my writing now.
Back to DoubleDutch. Not only is this a (another) geolocation iPhone app, but you’re offering companies or organizations the opportunity white label the DoubleDutch platform to create their own location-based iPhone app. Who is your target and how do you see them using it? What are your plans to make it competitive with the other apps out there that are already well entrenched?
Our three target verticals right now are Conferences, Hotels, and Universities. We think that almost any community that is tied to a location could benefit from a location and knowledge sharing service, but we needed to narrow the universe down a bit. Conferences and Hotels are interesting because they typically are communities of people who are converging on a new city looking for recommendations and interaction. DoubleDutch helps on both counts. Universities are interesting because of their tie to a specific geography, and the demographic. You can check out some sample use cases on DoubleDutch.me.
How does the Double Dutch app tie in to your main business, RateItAll?
Great question. We are seeing signs that DoubleDutch has the potential to become our main business, with RateItAll taking a supporting role. RateItAll provides a tremendous foundation for the service, with its massive amount of geo tagged data, and its 4M+ reviews. Our server infrastructure is key as well as it allows us offer SLAs to our clients. Also, all check in, ratings, reviews, and photo activity is aggregated on RateItAll.com, making DoubleDutch another content collection channel.
You were at SXSW, who won the geolocation prize there? Gowalla or Foursquare? I guess that’s a loaded question. What did they do right? Did you see any big mistakes?
I think geolocation won the geolocation prize. Both those services got a big boost, but I think the whole space benefited from all the attention. At DoubleDutch, we are huge fanboys / fangirls of both services and wish them only the best. If you believe that Enterprise trails Consumer by two years (which we do), the faster that those services blaze the trail, the faster that DoubleDutch will grow.
Please share 3-4 best practices and tips for companies that want to use geolocation based mobile apps to market their businesses?
I think it really depends what kind of business you are. If you are a local business, you don’t really have to do much other than ensure that your address info is up to date on the mobile services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, and of course, RateItAll. If you are a bit more savvy / experimental, you can try offering discounts / giveaways to Foursquare Mayors, and try and incentivize your customers to check-in and push to Twitter / FB.
If you are a big brand, perhaps it makes sense to try and cut a deal with Foursquare or Gowalla to sponsor some Badges. Lots of companies are cutting these sorts of deals, and it’s a good way to drop your brand into the experience of those apps in the context of the location game.
But if you are a big community, it might make sense to use a service like DoubleDutch to create a more pervasive connection with your customers / members / employees and extend your community out into the real world. Social check in apps are not only fun, but they can be productive. We’re talking to companies with some pretty innovative ideas for putting geo to work – for example, a real estate company wants to put this app in the hands of their agents to encourage more property visits, and help those agents capture photos and thoughts about each property. We have been amazed at how creative some of these companies are.
What about tips for marketing within the consumer reviews marketplace overall? How important is it for companies to be active, whether it’s editorially, through advertising or offline promotion with services like Yelp, Epinions or even RateItAll?
I strongly recommend that businesses be active on the big review properties. Being active does not mean being confrontational and bullying – it means engaging thoughtfully with customers, even the insane and / or angry ones. If you suspect cheating, don’t call out the customer – go to the host site. Most of these services allow commenting and messaging – on RateItAll, which is the 9th biggest review site, we see a number of big brands on the site every day making use of the free tools like commenting and messaging to engage their customers. Some of those folks pay us for access to a few more tools, but you don’t need to have a budget engage your customers.
One question I like to ask smart and busy entrepreneurs like yourself is: How do you stay current with technology and marketing? Do you have favorite events, books, blogs, networks or some kind of crystal RateItAll ball to keep you on top of what’s important for the future of your business?
I read and write as much as I possibly can. Writing makes me smarter about a topic, because I don’t want to come off as a moron. It takes a lot of research to write a post. Sexy Widget was born out of my desire to get smart about widgets, and my role as Editor at the Next Web was born out my desire to get smart about geo. In terms of reading, I hit Techmeme and Hacker News all the time, and also get a lot of good links from Twitter. My two favorite blogs are AVC and CDixon.org.
Living in San Francisco, I have access to a number of technology meetup type events – I try and hit a couple per month. There’s nothing better than talking to entrepreneurs, because for them, predicting the next big wave is life or death. I tend to listen to folks running companies more than I listen to journalists.
Lawrence Coburn is the founder and CEO of RateItAll and co-founder of the white label geolocation app,DoubleDutch. In his spare time, he is an editor of The Next Web’s Location blog. Lawrence is also a mentor at Ventures.io, a San Francisco based technology incubator.