Using MoLo to find a Mocha

Starbucks is often the first example used when someone tries to explain the benefits (or detriments, depending on your outlook) of location based services. “You’ll be walking by a Starbucks, and get hit with a promotion for coffee on your mobile device,” the story often goes.

There has been widespread agreement that this scenario will never happen and that location based services will only work with an opt in model, hence the increased discussion over Mobile Local Search (MoLo). SMS (texting) is currently the most widespread form of MoLo, however many more are in experimentation phases and are patiently waiting for greater mobile search and smart phone adoption.

Well it seems that Starbucks – never having cooled off from the excitement over the possibility of push based mobile advertising – has gotten tired of waiting and has launched its own SMS based mobile search product. Like Google SMS and Yahoo! Mobile, any text enabled mobile device (basically every phone on the market) can send a search query to a five digit number that returns locations of nearby results.

In Starbucks’ case this means sending your zip code to “MYSBUX” (a curious combination of letters if you glance over it quickly) to receive a text message back that has the locations of the nearest 3 Starbucks. CNET blogger Caroline McCarthy points out that this is only good if you know what zip code you’re in, which isn’t usually the case for travelers. Those that can find out their zip code will likely have GPS, and would thus have a more robust platform on which to find Starbucks.

Similarly, if you know what zip code you’re in, you might already know where the closest Starbucks is. In any case, this might be unnecessary in some urban areas where you can almost turn around and see three Starbucks from any given spot.

But it could actually catch on well in other areas among the legions of Starbucks faithfuls, given the sheer size of this population and the fact that we’re talking about an addictive substance. If it does, it could also work towards the general awareness and greater adoption of SMS search and MoLo in general. We’ll see.

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