Monday, April 23, 2007

How Location-Based Social Networking Should Work

I'm excited about the possibilities of location-based mobile services. By this I mean software services that take advantage of a user's physical location (determined by a GPS transponder in the phone or by geographic information transmitted from the phone to the mobile network) to provide current and pertinent information such as traffic, public transit data, local attractions and restaurant reviews, localized shopping, and, most importantly, localized advertising, all determined by the user's location. The ability to offer an advertiser an audience qualified by their actual current location would be of huge value.

But today, in 2007, most LBS applications suck. They're difficult to use, and require so much time and attention to sign up, set up and use that most casual users will never try. It's a chicken-or-egg dilemma, but without a growing and active userbase, an LBS will never become successful.

The Killer LBS App
Start with Dodgeball. Functionally, it's a good place to begin. It's under the nurturing care of Google, so there are plenty of possibilities for piggybacking onto existing services that already have userbases, like Gmail.

Right now, users of Dodgeball are required to 'check in' actively via SMS. For some phones without GPS functionality, this is the only way it could work. But let's look further forward into the future, and go ahead and add passive GPS-derived check-ins. No more typing "@local bar name" and waiting for a flurry of SMS messages to go out to all of your friends. Instead, just go to the bar, and if you've turned your visibility on, then your friends will know where you are. If they need to be reminded, then just click "Announce My Location", and let your phone's GPS service take care of the rest.

The next step would be to build a mashup of Dodgeball, Google Maps and Gmail Chat, so that all of the big LBS benefits are delivered seamlessly through one solution.

Let's move on to the illustration of what this could look like, to facilitate the explanation:

From a mobile device (or from a desktop, but for the full benefit of the mobile aspect, let's assume we're using a mobile device), the user accesses a list of friends. Each friend's location is being tracked and reported by the GPS component of their mobile device, and their location is logged on the list. An illustration:

By selecting the Map view, the same list of friends can be viewed visually, with each contact's location displayed on a map, as shown here:
And finally, by selecting a friend individually, their profile can be accessed, a call or SMS can be initiated, or directions to their location can be requested:


Anonymous said...


r0tt3n said...

Very fascinating concept. I play v-ball all the time, and it would be quite useful for everyone to know where everyone else is at when trying to coordinate that stuff. So cool!!