KU grad talks about newest trend in social media

Scott Raymond, a 2001 Kansas University grad and former linguistics major, gave a peek into the next big thing in social media: location-based social networks.

He should know. As cofounder and CTO of Gowalla, he helped build one.

Gowalla is a location-based social network that allows users to check-in to places using smart phones, picking up badges as they move from place to place. In return, users tap into special deals, keep a record of where they have been and find out where their friends are.

Since the company launched the Web application more than a year ago, Gowalla has accumulated about 250,000 users, doubled in size to 18 employees and moved headquarters from Kansas City to Austin, Texas.

The popularity of sites such as Gowalla is a result of social media’s growing acceptance, the mainstream use of smart phones and the ability for mobile devices to pinpoint locations, Raymond said.

“I think location is fundamental,” he said. “It taps into something that is absolutely at the core of our identity and how we understand our relationship with others and with the world.”

Raymond was among the speakers at Thursday’s Free State Social, a social media conference sponsored by The World Company and LJWorld.com.

For companies, sites like Gowalla allow them to offer deals to customers who they know are already at their business, provides information on who their best customers are and give them a presence that acts as a means of virtual architecture.

During the South by Southwest technology conference in Austin last month, Gowalla randomly handed out free taco coupons for those who checked-in. At the end of the day, for every one taco given away, 12 tacos were sold.

“It demonstrates what the potential is for really moving foot traffic,” Raymond said.

While other location-based networking sites have more of a game mentality, Raymond said Gowalla is focused on sharing life experiences and providing a visually appealing place where “brands would be proud to be.”

As for those wondering when they can tap into Gowalla, Raymond said an iPad version of the application will be available “real soon, like maybe tomorrow” and a version for BlackBerry is a couple of weeks away.