Via Martin I learn this morning that Meetro closed its doors, another location based service down for the count. Yesterday with Toine we jokingly said that 2008 was going to be the year of geolocation because it seems to be everywhere. Seems everyone is thinking about location information but not getting it right yet.
There are a number of interesting things you can do with geolocation but they mostly have to do with trails, helping you re-sort or find things based on location. For example Flickr’s geolocation of images allows you to search for images based on location. Cool. Contextual information on the phone based on where you are, figured out live through GPS or wifi triangulation. Cool. “High level” location like Dopplr, cool (if you travel quite a bit). Dopplr getting your geolocated images from Flickr and displaying them on your trip page filtered through time; very cool.
I have yet to hear of something cool you can do with a standalone “social” service where the whole purpose of the thing is to simply know where your friends are. Sure technically and on the surface it’s interesting but how often would you really use that? I think as soon as you start thinking about broadcasting your location you start thinking “who do I want to know about this” and Martin’s Kakiloc, for one, attacked this with the privacy angle, helping you decide who knows where you are only in certain cases. Good, we need that.
However, it’s not only a question of privacy, it’s a question of when I’m actually looking for some people to do something. Martin mentions that when you start listing your friends from some social platform through location, your network becomes quite a bit smaller, making it hard to get to critical mass on any platform. I’d say that if you run that again through a “people I actually want to see now” filter, it’s still quite a bit smaller. Then adjust again for when you are actually in a situation where you, spur of the moment, want to be with people to do something else, you get the super low usage figures that all location based social software apps are getting.
The answer is obvious and Fire Eagle is trying to do just that: location is an addon. It also needs to be pretty near to automated to work for other people than early adopters. Or at least very simple. I think the only way location becomes interesting for “friends based live interaction” is as an option on existing platforms. Examples:
On Twitter, a “direct location” option where you can direct message Twitter to give a location (or have previously configured your account to ping Fire Eagle for that) then send another message, prefixed with some sort of flag (“l” ?) this message would then be sent as direct message to all your contacts currently within X kilometers. That message could also go through to your main stream of messages or be filtered out. The point of the direct messages, even if the message is seen by everyone, is to make sure they see it in time, not hours later. “Twitter mobs” at SXSW are the closest thing I’ve seen yet to real location based value… and they weren’t even based on “real” precise location, just on giving the name of the place. Of course this was greatly distorted by the massive concentration of like minded Twitter users within a 5 square kilometer area.
On Facebook, you could add an option to the custom friends list, allowing you to make lists for “Close friends within 1 kilometer”, you flag that list as location aware. When you send a message to this list you can either add your location at the moment of posting or have Facebook ping Fire Eagle to know your location, the message goes to friends from that list who are within that area.
(In both cases you have to be keeping your Fire Eagle location up to date by hand or through some automation and/or update it before using the other. Automation and privacy filtering of course being the other half of making this killer but it’s not a destination site, it has to be a service.)
This is something you’d use what, once or twice a week, at most? A great option to have for something you are already using, not enough value (+ frequent usage to make it a habit) to go to a standalone product.