It’s a location-based digital world these days. The August launch of Facebook Places (facebook.com/places), a new function that allows users to digitally “check in” at locations worldwide and alert their friends, signals the mainstreaming of apps and websites that let you use a mobile device to track and share your whereabouts. The social-network-savvy, early-adopter crowd, of course, is already familiar with these location-based services. They’ve been checking in at sites like Gowalla (gowalla.com), Foursquare (foursquare.com), and Loopt (loopt.com) for over a year now—which, in social-media time, is like decades. But the benefits of location-sharing for travelers have seemed limited to bragging rights and the occasional insight into which bars or restaurants are “trending,” or suddenly popular. Facebook Places is poised to change that, offering users a chance to solicit destination-related advice from a range of friends beyond the Millennial Generation. And as these services become more popular, travelers will likely see more significant real-world enticements: deals, discounts, and insider tips based on where they are. Perhaps most interestingly, the floodgates are open for similar apps based on fixed locations, such as the smart new EpicMix (snow.com/epicmix) from Vail Resorts, which allows skiers to track their on-mountain stats (vertical feet, number of lifts, etc.) and connect with friends and family on the slopes—all through a radio chip embedded in their ski passes. Tech watchers say this could herald the real future of location-based services for travel, as other resorts, cruise lines, and destination-based companies take note—and start imitating.
Illustraited by Leif Parsons