Pew: Only 4% of Adults Use Location-Based Services

By Katie Kindelan Comment

Social networking giant Facebook just announced an expansion of Places, its location-based networking feature, but perhaps it should have “checked-in” with Main Street first.

A new study has found that only four percent of online adults use location-based services and, on any given day, just one percent of Internet users use the services to share their location with friends.

The surprising results come from a first-of-its-kind report on “geosocial” services by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life study.

The results are surprising not because of the numbers of users on the two biggest location-based networking sites – Foursquare has just four million users while Gowalla has under one million – but because of the media hype and attention surrounding their introduction onto the social media scene.

The “geosocial” trend grabbed the spotlight by taking social networking one step further, allowing users to “check-in” to various locations and tell their friends where they are. Like a game, they allow users to “unlock” badges, become the “mayor” of businesses and sites they frequent and, now, with the expansion of Facebook’s Places, win special deals and discounts.

The Pew study found that mobile users and twenty-somethings are the heaviest users of these sites, with eight percent of those ages 18-29 saying they use location-based services, and seven percent of adults who use a smartphone logging on.

Not surprisingly, your friends who update their status constantly are also the most likely to make sure you know where they are at all times.

Pew reports that among online adults, 62 percent use Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn. Of those, six percent use Gowalla, Foursquare or other location services. And of the 24 percent of online adults on Twitter, 10 percent also use a location-based service, more than twice the rate of the general online population

Men are more likely than women to share their location, the study said. Among races, 10 percent of online Hispanics use these services, significantly more than online whites (3 percent) or African-Americans (5 percent).

Still to be determined is how heavily Facebook will market Places among its 500 million users and how much that influence will spread to Foursquare, Gowalla and the sector as a whole. Also of note is research showing that U.S. businesses will spend $1.8 billion on location-aware marketing in 2015, according to estimates from market research firm ABI Research

Pew’s latest findings come from a telephone survey of 3,001 conducted between August 9 and September 13, 2010. The survey was administered to adults age 18 and older, using a combination of landline and cellular telephones.