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Today I had the chance to interview Lawrence Coburn, CEO of mobile geolocation technology provider DoubleDutch. The company provides a toolkit for brands and media companies to build their own little Foursquare.

These branded geolocation apps are mostly targeted to events (like tech conferences), local media companies (like newspapers) and colleges. Each of them can build its own apps with customized game mechanics and incentives such as badges, promotions and freebies.

Publish or Perish

A conference, for example, sets up the app to let attendees connect to one another for the duration of the show. Check-ins at different parts of the show — like sessions or sponsor booths — can unlock promotions or giveaways. Show sponsors can also be given top rankings in “nearby places” or other exposure within the app.

Media companies are also a particularly good fit, says Coburn. It currently powers GQ Australia’s Bar Spy app, which is attempting to be the go-to source for mobile local search, editorial content and social interaction. Not only is a dominant geosocial app lacking there, says Coburn, but GQ also has lots of local editorial content to trump a Foursquare.

The New York Times did something similar with its Scoop app. Instead of providing content to Foursquare, it built its own app that has similar social features, but also lots of editorial content that Foursquare is missing (its brand doesn’t hurt either). GQ Australia is attempting a similar strategy but with an early mover advantage.

Colleges are another target market, as mentioned. Privacy and security concerns make this branded and closed social app a natural fit. Instead of having students exposed to the wild west of an open graph, a student-only network is more protected.

And of course the badges and prizes thematically tie back to the school, campus, events and venues (i.e., badge for checking in to 8 a.m. classes, etc.). Like the early days of Facebook, registrations are governed by the proper .edu e-mail address.

Check Yourself

But of all these opportunities, the tech conference angle seems the most fitting, having a subset of individuals who are generally more engaged than the general population in mobile social apps like Foursquare. But it begs the question of why conferences wouldn’t just utilize the existing Foursquare and its more established brand?

“I can answer that with one word,” says Coburn “control.” He refers to the customization and event branding that is interlaced with the app experience. Cost is also an issue, he says, pointing out that your own Foursquare badge can be about $30K, and that’s if you can get through to them on the phone.

He admits this is more a function of Foursquare’s exploding activity and internal resource constraints rather than any sort of unprofessionalism, but point well taken. The price of a DoubleDutch app is conversely tied to usage levels and off the record for now, but I can say that it is a good value for what is offered.

For conference organizers, the other benefit we discussed is analytics. All the check-ins and other social engagement provide a sort of heat map of activity. This can represent valuable feedback for how to better run shows in the future — perhaps more so than the requisite surveys.

“This is definitely something we’re thinking of,” says Coburn. “Better data equals better decisions.”

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