As predicted, location-based social networks are taking off, especially now that one of the big boys has entered the schoolyard. Facebook will definitely change up the game as news of improved functionality and acquisitions becomes commonplace. While badges, games and mayoral-ships might be popular today, augmented reality is what's going to truly allow players to become successful in this space - and Tagwhat is the latest AR entry to follow in the LBS footsteps of Layar, Juanio and Google Goggles.
Launching today, Tagwhat is a free network where you can create-and-share location based messages and content on-line or in mobile augmented reality. Mobile AR is a new way of displaying information on mobile devices, at the user’s location, via the camera view. Essentially, by placing data overlays over real life street scenes, the service 'augments' reality in ways that makes one's reality richer.
Alan Henry from PC Mag wrote about the network's interactivity as its key feature. "Instead of using a passive database like other augmented reality apps, Tagwhat allows you to participate and build a rich directory of destinations and items of note in your (geo-located) area," says Henry. Differing from Foursquare and some of the others, Tagwhat users have the ability to tag places, points of interest (POI) and upload photos for other users to view on their own mobile devices.
Since the network has been in beta for some time, it has built up a robust database of notes, photos and comments for places that new users will see immediately after they download the app.
Tagwhat has two views: an augmented reality screen and a map tab. In the AR view, using the phone's camera can survey one's surroundings, where pop-ups will appear over items and places that other users have tagged with distance and direction notations.
The overhead map view allows users to navigate a Google Map of an area, overlaid with Tagwhat markers that include pins in places where other members have tagged or made comments.
The augmented reality view is most useful for viewing geo-tagged street scenes , retail partners and eventually advertisements that correspond to these locations. The network also connects with a user's Facebook and Twitter accounts to help identify places your friends and followers are tagging. Members can also attach multimedia, URL’s, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses to the AR tags, all of which are immediately accessible and can be directly launched from the mobile device.
The service also integrates with Foursquare for those that want to check-in to locations to earn badges, while its "eat and drink" channel will guide members to restaurants and bars in the area. The Wikipedia channel is definitely the most robust since it allows users to point the phone at unmarked buildings or points of interest to access augmented reality layers that have already been pre-populated with markers by the Wikipedia Web site.
As you can see, Tagwhat has utilized the augmented reality technology in a way that I think overshadows some of the other LBS's out there. Also by integrating with Foursquare, previous FS members can gain the benefit of the Tagwhat's AR experience without sacrificing the functionality of check-ins they are used to. Unless Facebook incorporates some of these features, or acquires a service like Tagwhat, I think this LBS has enough 'bells and whistles' to distinguish it from the pack... at least in the short term.