Why Recommended Places Are the Next Big Thing in Location

Now that Facebook is doing its best to make location-based services and the idea of a “check-in” mainstream with Facebook Places, the real game in location is shifting elsewhere: such as trying to make sense of all of the location data that users are providing through various services. One obvious goal is to offer users recommendations for places based on their behavior or the activity of their social network, and several startups have their eye on that prize: The Hotlist, a seed-funded startup based in New York, just announced it has integrated the Facebook Places API into its recommendation service, and Hunch.com — another NYC-based startup, founded by Flickr (s yhoo) co-founder Caterina Fake — has just launched a recommended-location service.

The Hotlist started as a service aimed at university students, designed by its founders to aggregate information from a user’s social network and show popular nightspots. It uses the Facebook platform to pull in data from that network’s social graph, and also collects related tweets about a location from Twitter, as well as user reviews from Yelp. The service’s university-focused pedigree definitely shows in certain features, like the one that shows the male-to-female ratio at a given venue. The Hotlist also allows users to share their future plans to attend events or go to specific locations, in much the same way that event-sharing services such as Plancast do. The company raised $800,000 from a number of angel investors earlier this year.

Although it is still relatively new (having launched its beta in March), The Hotlist says it’s logged close to 3 million upcoming events that users (and their social networks) plan to attend at almost a million locations around the world.

Hunch.com, a recommendation service that Caterina Fake and Chris Dixon launched earlier this year, also has its eye on providing location recommendations, through a feature called Hunch Local that debuted recently. Hunch pulls in a user’s social-graph information when they log in with Facebook or Twitter, but also uses its proprietary algorithm — which is based on a user’s answers to a series of questions about their likes and dislikes in a variety of areas — to arrive at recommendations. So while The Hotlist shows you venues that your social network explicitly likes or has checked-in at, Hunch tries to guess what kinds of locations you might like (other services such as LikeCube are taking a similar approach).

A service like Foursquare can show you how many of your friends have checked in at a specific spot and give you tips about that location, while Yelp and other services (such as Google (s goog) Local) can show you user reviews, but the interesting thing about applications like The Hotlist and Hunch’s local recommendation feature is their ability — or potential ability — to effectively make social decisions easier. With a glance at a customized map on your Hotlist page, you can see the places where your friends either are already or plan to go in the future, and then decide to join them (or not, depending on how social you’re feeling). Hunch’s secret sauce, meanwhile, is its ability to guess what locations you might be interested in, based on what it knows about you.

Facebook has its eye on the recommendation prize as well, obviously. Given enough check-ins and “likes” using the network’s open-graph protocol, Facebook can start to show you what locations are popular with your social network, and then eventually make suggestions about locations you might like as well — the potential advertising opportunities for such a service would be huge — and because the Facebook Places API is open, it can aggregate data from Foursquare and Gowalla as well. That is going to make the game a lot harder for startups like Hunch and The Hotlist, but for now at least the location-recommendation market is fairly wide open.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Dunechaser