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Whats Hot in iTunes? Location-Based Apps.

SXSW 2010 was all about location. In fact, we could look back on 2010 as the year of location and geo... which would be a natural progression from 2009's mobile growth.

According to iTunes and its "What's Hot" category: the App Store is also all about location. While I do not know exactly how 'hotness' is defined, we know a couple things: - it seems to be a mix of curation + popularity - it is distinctly different from "new" apps and "top downloads" - it usually features a mix of free and paid apps... as it clearly behooves Apple to drive paid downloads - it usually features a mix of app types: games, sports, utilities, etc - for specific themes, Apple creates curated 'storefronts' (like "Baseball App Store Essentials" or "Independent Games Festivals") So it is unique that the six "hottest" apps are: Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Whrrl, MyTown and Citysearch. All are free and location-based, check-in applications. In fact, only one of those applications (Booyah's MyTown) features in-app purchases; but while they are not direct revenue producers for Apple, these are all highly viral and sticky applications.

I would love to see another app category: "most active". Ultimately, I care far more about ongoing usage and adoption than the download. And ultimately, Apple should favor sticky, oft-used apps (like Pandora and Facebook... and these location apps) than those with very high churn. You can extrapolate usage through downloads and ratings... but that is flawed because 1) ratings are predominently negative due to Apple's implementation) and 2) we do not have great visibility into downloads. A barometer of activity - no matter how disguised it would be - would be powerful... and I imagine that, for the time being, these six apps would appear in that list:

I would love to see a

Booyah's MyTown: Reach Level 40 & Win

My recent 'strategy guide' on Booyah's wildly popular mobile game MyTown is strangely one of my most popular blog posts. Like the 1,000,000 other users who are actively using MyTown, I am addicted and believe that they are among the best example of game mechanics in mobile and local. CrunchBase covered them recently and announced the following stats which demonstrate a mix of engagement and virality: -1 Million+ Registered Users -Averaged 100K new registered users a week since launching in December -40 Million+ Virtual items consumed each week -25 Million weekly check-ins -Daily engagement over 65 minutes

The last line is the most staggering... an hour of engagement per day. Wow.

Well, once you hit level 40, the game pretty much ends. You reach "max" points and there is little gameplay incentive to 'check-in' and accumulate points. It is strange to think that the game has an end - Farmville, for instance, doesn't end because the leaderboards and social mechanics don't allow it to. MyTown isn't quite there yet. Perhaps I would be motivated if I realized where my town's value lay in comparison to my friends'... or perhaps I was motivated to reach level 40 (and accumulate points along the way).

Either way, it gives me closure and hopefully more time... though I was NOT spending 65 minutes a day!

Checking-In: The Geo-coded Status Update

Two excellent posts on the current status of geo-location companies by Robert Scoble and Hunter Walk (both bloggers are great and their blogs are must reads). Scoble argues that industry-first Foursquare is being squeezed by Gowalla (best UI) and Booyah's MyTown (best gameplay and my personal favorite!).

Hunter argues that, considering their rapid growth, there is room for Foursquare assuming they move beyond 'utility' and into an experience:

"If they get reduced to being a utility ("publish location") or end up focused on too narrow a group of users, they'll get passed by general purpose geo services or social networks on one side and out innovated by gowalla, mytown, etc on the other. [read more]" Both Hunter and Scoble are spot-on: Foursquare, Gowalla and others need to build social and/or finding experiences beyond the 'check-in'. Consider that Foursquare has 1,000,000 weekly check-ins. That's significant size and growth. But when Facebook and Twitter turn geo-coding on, they will dominate by volume (and I have written about this before): on Facebook, 40,000,000 users update their status each day.... and 20% of Facebook users are on their mobile platform. "Check-ins", whether passive or active, will be massive. Between Facebook, Twitter, and the development on their platforms - the "check-in" will be commoditized (and that doesn't include Google, Yelp and other big players).

That is why I believe that the gameplay is so critical: it creates an experience beyond the 'check-in' that is part social, part gaming and part finding. Booyah's MyTown is a terrific example: in an interview with Scoble, CEO Keith Lee said that the average MyTown user (and there are 850,000+) spends 50 minutes per day. Clearly there is more to it than 'checking in'... and the Booyah team's background is in traditional gaming: Blizzard, EA, etc.

Another way to think about it: Facebook's power is in the social graph and the experience they have created... not in the 'status update' itself. Surely statuses are a core part of Facebook, but status updates exist on numerous websites and in various forms. The conversation is powerful in part because of where it sits, the network it is in and the responses that it generated. The act of checking-in should be thought of similarly... after all, in its simplest form, it is a status update with a geo-code appended to it.