Emerging markets are not going to utilize the same location based services as developed world for many years to come. There are many reasons for this: E.g. maps are not used in education, maps are inaccurate in many parts of the world, and not conveniently available. This needs to be taken into account in social networks.
Limited handset capabilities
One reason for the unavailability of maps is the very marginal penetration of smartphones. Less than 20% of the population in emerging markets have smartphones available based on VisionMobile:
Smartphone and feature phone penetration by region in 2011
Smartphone sales is increasing in emerging markets but feature phone sales significantly outpaced smartphone sales in 2011 suggesting that the installed base of feature phones will remain strong for quite a number of years:
Smartphone and feature phone sales in millions by region in 2011
Landmarks have been proven to overcome the significant limitations in “the map approach” in emerging markets. Landmarks have been very successfully used in tracking applications and recently they have been deployed in mobile social networks that are purely focused on emerging markets.
In social networks context, landmarks are close enough to each other so that one can express one's location fairly accurately, but far enough to “hide” exact location. Location will always be in a format that is relevant for the others but simultaneously provides enough privacy and social space if needed. The benefit is that they are known places (e.g. near Plaza de Concordia, Caracas, Venezuela) so one doesn´t need to be accustomed to maps and can instantly understand the location. Location is expressed in text format that is suitable to any type of mobile phone, not just smartphones. One of the concerns when sharing location is privacy. Landmarks alleviate many of these concerns as it is not exactly where one resides but a place that is nearby.
Providing approximation of the location is one of the reasons why Eskimi chose the landmarks approach for its mobile dating service. Eskimi has over 5 million users in emerging markets and is adding 30,000 new users every day. It is the most popular dating service in Africa and South East Asia. Landmark approach protects the user from expressing one´s location too accurately but enables to be in contact with other users nearby.
Landmarks will facilitate all social networks to offer relevant location services to the majority of the world population that resides in emerging markets. Landmarks approach mimics how the majority of the world already communicates about location.