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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

H&M Launches MyTown Integration & Ads; Facebook Sponsored Campaign

Earlier this week, MyTown released version 2.1 of their wildly popular mobile gaming app (unfortunately there is still no level 41). In addition to some very slick UI enhancements and clever game mechanics (such as scratch lottery tickets that are rewarded every 30-minutes) - they released integrated local ad campaigns. ... and they timed that launch with a Facebook sponsored ad campaign that echoes the same messaging and products as the MyTown focus: "The Blues":

Previously, MyTown ran ads for local franchises like Red Mango: the stores were highlighted in local listings and discounts were provided to those who either owned the property or checked-in. In version 2.1, MyTown released a far more integrated campaign for clothing store H&M. In addition to features used with Red Mango, they fully integrated H&M in the gameplay ... using the same functionality and game-mechanics that make MyTown so popular to lift H&M's brand. Here are a handful of examples.

1. Location awareness. H&M products and integrations only appear when the store is relatively close.

2. Once you check-in, you can get discounts and dynamic ads:

3. When you check-in to H&M (and other locations), you can earn H&M bonuses and virtual goods:

4. Integrated gameplay. Every so often, you unlock functionality that is branded H&M - like this scratch card:

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.

Twitter Local Trends: Local Search is About to Change

I might be in the minority here, but I consider Twitter's launch of Local Trends Twitter's most significant product advancement since... launch? It will no doubt be overshadowed by tomorrow's Apple announcement - but local trends are important for, among numerous others, three primary reasons: 1. It marks the next generation of Twitter: geo-location posts, communities and trends. Tonight is step one (you could argue the acquisition and some of their key hires were actually the first steps... but you get the point). 2. Twitter's Developer-friendly platform will enable rampant development and innovation in the local and social spaces. Imagine Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, etc all on steroids.

3. Facebook's location play must be coming. With Facebook and Twitter already dominating social discussion and mobile usage, they both have a chance to redefine 'check-ins', location based services...

4. ... and geo-location based advertising. Which could be Twitter's revenue fountain, open up a compelling off-Twitter ad network and/or be the next evolution of mobile advertising. Each of these points are relevant to Facebook as well - should they move aggressively into local.

Sure... I might be speculating too big and too far - but Twitter and Facebook can (and I predict will) revolutionize "local", both disrupting the landscape and enabling development / innovation.

As an aside, take a look at the difference between the national Twitter trends and San Francisco's trends... it is very clear (as if we didn't know), that we are far geekier than most. Our top trends are: "iPad", "McGraw-Hill", "Local Trending", etc:

MyTown Social Gaming Strategy

MyTown is best described as Zynga meets Foursquare. Take the best aspects of social gaming (Zynga) and combine them with location based networking (Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp) and you have MyTown: a game that awards points based on live social game mechanics built atop location-based check ins. You can own real properties (akin to being the mayor) and then collect rent (similar to Mafia Wars, Farmville) based on popularity and live activity (again like Foursquare).

MyTown's point structure is particularly clever and powerful because it creates an incentive structure predicated on routine usage and social sharing. Two great examples that were perfected by Zynga:

1. Deprecation. Farmville is the master of this: because rents cap out at a specific amount, users must collect rent regularly (ie hourly) to maximize potential revenues. As a proxy, if you do not return to harvest your crops in Farmville, they actually deprecate. 2. Social Sharing. Check-ins are rewarded with points (ie 150 points). But large bounties are provided for social actions like: connecting the MyTown account to Facebook Connect, broadcasting your location via Facebook and/or Twitter, and adding commentary on the location.

Below is a strategy to MyTown from town billionaire Kirk Nguyen. Fascinating stuff:

Try to maximize your points payload with multipliers. It's a combination of using multiple multipliers, obtaining the multipliers that yield the most return, and holding out until your base check-in worth is substantial enough (think long-run diminishing returns).

Upgrade as soon as you can, but it starts to get costly after level 5 or 6. Once the upgrade cost got to $7+ million, I bought free upgrade power-ups to maintain my cash for purchasing properties padding my towns total worth.

Finally, keep an eye on trending, number of owners, and popularity - ESPECIALLY popularity: it determines the maximum property value and maximum rent cap.

And if you want to stay on top of the leaderboards for your properties (and other non-owned properties), only keep local properties in your stable. I was in SF last night and bought some high-value properties, but then realized that I couldn't buffer my leaderboard weight for them when I got back into San Jose. I'll probably sell them sometime soon. Oh well, see ya Adidas Concept Store!

All in all, I try for check-ins worth between 45k-60k points, single-ownership of long-lasting, high-popularity businesses, and I collect all 20 of my level 11 property rents with one click.

Once you start rollin', you'll see how ingenious Booyah!'s micro-transaction business is. They made it very accessible and compelling.

My town is worth $2.5 billion, but I feel I could be doing better.

Good luck and happy hunting!