Just days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new suite of mobile upgrades to Facebook, including single sign-on, the opening of location APIs, and the launch of a new Deals platform that lets users earn discounts for check-ins, the Pew Research Center released a study finding that such location-based services really aren’t as popular as previously assumed. While everyone was riding on the new Facebook location-based features high, the Pew Internet and American Life Project came out with its buzzkill report showing that only 4% of American adults use location-based apps, like Foursquare or Gowalla, and on any given day only 1% do so.
The research project, which surveyed 3,001 American adults over the age of 18, found that among respondents who go online with their mobile phones, only 7% actually use a location-based service. The age group that uses a location-based service is, predictably, the youngest group: those between 18 and 29. Users aged 18-29 were twice as likely as any other age group to use a location-based service, which leads one to wonder what the rate is for teenagers, but the study did not survey anyone under the age of 18.
Interestingly, twice as many men use location-based services than women: 6% compared to 3%, respectively. Even more surprising is the racial breakdown: 10% of Hispanic Internet users (both English- and non-English-speaking) use a service like Foursquare or Gowalla, compared to 3% of white Internet users and 5% of black Internet users.
Typically with new technology and early adoption characteristics, it’s not unusual to find that income and education level correspond directly with amount of usage or adoption (generally, higher income and education levels equate to higher levels of usage). But that is not the case for location-based services, where the highest usage level is seen in the mid-level income range. 6% of Internet users with a household income between $30,000 and $75,000 use location-based services, compared to 3% of those making less than $30,000 and 4% of those making more than $75,000.
Education level also showed a strange disparity, with those on the extreme ends of the education poll using location-based services more than those in the middle (in direct contrast with income statistics). 5% of Web users with less than a high school education and 5% of those with an advanced degree use location-based services, compared to 3% of those with a high school education and 4% of those with some college.
With such miniscule numbers, it makes you wonder why companies like Facebook, Yelp, and others are scrambling to get into the location-based check-in scene. The study’s author, Kathryn Zickuhr, makes the point that location-based check-in services are similar in some respects to status-updating sites like Twitter, which also had some pretty miniscule numbers only two years ago. “Status updating services have grown in popularity over the past few years, from 6% of online adults saying they had used such a service in August 2008 to 24% in September 2010,” Zickuhr points out in the study.
Indeed, Twitter users seem to have the highest rate of check-ins: 10% of Twitter users also use location-based services, twice the rate of the general online population. By comparison, 6% of Facebook and MySpace users also use location-based services.