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Live from #SXSW: What’s holding back location-based social networks? SCVNGR’s CEO weighs in

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Location-based networks may be popular with technophiles, marketers and other early adopters — but they’re a long way from being mainstream, says SCVNGR CEO Seth Priebatsch during his Saturday keynote speech at SxSW.

Priebatsch argued that the coming decade will see game mechanics become integral to everyday life — just as social connections have became ubiquitous during the last decade. Game mechanics could help people solve real-world problems, such as failing schools or attracting new customers to a business, using a combination of incentives, communal activities and other game design tools.

There’s one kind of business Priebatsch has a special interest in popularizing: location-based networks such as his own SCVNGR network. Priebatsch said that the problem with location networks may be that they possess too many barriers to entry. Priebatsch put forward two possible changes that could push location-based networks closer to the mainstream.

  1. Re-think “location.” Right now most location-based networks require you to be physically at a location to interact with it. But location-based networks aren’t really about check-ins, he says. They’re about interacting with a place. But there are other ways to interact with a place aside from announcing your arrival that could enhance the experience and make it easier for more people to use a given network more often.
  2. Re-think “reward.” Priebatsch noted throughout his presentation that while rewards can be powerful motivators, they can also have a dark side. When you offer someone a reward for participating in a community, it can create a perverse incentive. Are users participating because they enjoy the community? Or because they want the material reward? What happens when a network can’t offer a reward for every interaction? Priebatsch said that many networks have benefited from offering rewards, but that he’s not sure if that kind of engagement is sustainable.

In both cases, Priebatsch added that he’s not sure how his own network will handle these challenges. But he said that if a game is too difficult for many people to play, then it makes sense to change the rules so that the game becomes easier to play — and more attractive to more people, he said.

What other rules could social networks re-think to increase engagement?

Sorry. No data so far.

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