Brightkite Checking Out of Location, Embracing Group Text

The location battle lost a pioneer today as Brightkite announced it was pivoting away from check-ins and towards group text messaging. The move suggests that the rough-and-tumble world of location-based services may be at the beginning of a weeding out process.

Brightkite was one of the early players in location-based services, but has had trouble keeping up with Foursquare, which recently topped 5 million users. Brightkite, which lost co-founders Martin May and Brady Becker earlier this year, has increasingly focused on its group text messaging feature, which it said in September was the fastest growing part of the business.

Now, group texting will move from an add-on service to become the main engine driving Brightkite, which has about a million users currently. The company said it hopes to become the default text messaging app for smartphone users, offering free messaging along with features like groups, photos and integrated location-sharing. Check-ins, which the company last year said was a commodity, will begin to disappear on Dec. 17, as will Brightkite’s posting and streaming functionality. “These features were the defining element to our company 2 and 3 years ago, but we no longer believe they are sufficiently unique or defining to be our focus, so we are dropping them,” the company said on its blog.

The check-in activity is indeed becoming a commodity as more companies, including Facebook, provide the feature. And as Om talked about previously, check-ins can be tiring, which is why most location companies are looking beyond the check-in. That will be the test for location services now. It’s not enough to broadcast a user’s whereabouts; you need to be a leader in something else that relates to location, whether it’s personalized recommendations, deals or real world games. If a company has that, they can try to duke it out, or they might consider taking their specialty and focusing on it like Brightkite is doing with its group message feature.

The group text messaging market seems like a promising option, though it’s getting very competitive too. We highlighted two rising players — GroupMe and Fast Society — which provide the ability for friends and families to easily exchange text messages and calls using one number. GroupMe recently snagged a $9 million round of funding led by Khosla Ventures.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user TheTruthAbout.