From conversations I had with friends and colleagues, I believe this will be the first of a series of “last parts” regarding business models for Mobile Location Based Services.

I’ll assume through this post that you have read the preceding articles (LBS Marketing Concept / Value Chain 1 / Value Chain 2 / Location Based Social Networks 2.5) as many of the keys for further business models discussions reside there.

In my first post I defined the “Location Based Service concept” as the company’s effort to transform geographical positioning information into valuable and relevant data for a customer, to make a profit. The question here is: who is the customer that is willing to pay for that data?

Tim O’Reilly defines in “What is WEB 2.0Data is the next Intel Inside and he presents a key question: Who owns the data? And I would add, What Data?

In the following Business Model the LBS service provider owns the data. I reviewed many Location Based Social Networking sites and in most cases “some kind” of lack of privacy is the base of their business model. Differently from carrier fee based pushed services (top – down), this model is based on bottom-up. The LBS provider enables a platform for people to interact for free. In this scenario the handset is usually subsidized by the carrier, interested in generating traffic. The free service is now growing in viral mode and at this point the customers should be called by their real function: “data collectors”.

The idea is to collect your customer location, and delete identifiable information (name, photo, address) but keeping the demographic (sex, age, likes, dislikes). This customer’s “Location Information” can be indeterminably retained by the LBS service provider. The data can be aggregated, and provided to interested third parties willing to pay for certain content, segmentation, information about people movement habits, and many others. Are you starting to get the picture?

Let’s figure some scenario

Location Based Social Network

Location Based Social Network Raw Data

Segmentation - Location Based Social Network

Segmentation-Location Based Social Network

The left figure shows the data collected in NYC in one month time. The right figure shows different types of segmentation of the same data. Now with the valuable data on hand, you just need to find your real customers, those ready to pay for the information. For example, a person planning to open a few coffee shops would find valuable where and when its target demographics meet and hung out. Retailers would like to know where their potential customers meet, what their usual routes are, where they stop, for how long they stop, etc.

The concept of Location Based Advertising gets now a new dimension. Most companies tried to implement on cellular networks the same advertising models used in desktop computers to discover that customers are much more resistant to receive any kind of adds in their cellular phone. Additionally, the cost of sending coupons or ads to every potential customer walking by your store makes this model almost prohibitive.

Do you remember the movie The Minority Report? Tom Cruise walked through some screens and the advertising shows up completely customized to his person. The mistake with today’s Location Based Advertising is to assume that the media used to collect your location information should be the same as the media to deliver the message back. Your cell phone is good to know where you are, not necessarily to receive ads. The second mistake is to assume the message needs to be completely personalized. The ads displayed (billboards, info kiosks, signs, etc.), can target certain population according of the demographics visiting the area.

Going back to our business model and to provide an example from real life, we can mention Google maps for mobile devices. While this is not a LBSN application it still fits the model mentioned above. Google lets customer use their Mobile Google Maps for free. Every time a customer with a GPS enabled phone (the data collectors) used the application, Google maps collected information about closest cellular towers. Today, and thanks to the help of million of free data collectors, Google can provide Location Services in their system, using the cellular tower information collected, also to customer without GPS enabled devices. LBS Developers (the customer) can use this features now, for a fee. Brilliant!

As I expected when I start writing this post, I still have many topics to talk about this issue, i.e. can companies that offer LBSN survive only on that feature or will they be swallowed by the big ones (Facebook, MySpace). Is privacy overrated? Will the marketing/advertising agencies have to add more technical/engineering people to their staff?

Be expecting more than one post a week! And please link / share / comment . THANKS!