I pretty much knew that as soon as I wrote my post about Highlight that I’d have to write yet another one about all the other location services taking off this year at the South by Southwest conference. Just a few years ago, the main competitors in this arena were Foursquare and Gowalla. Sure, there were other folks like Brightkite, Whrrl, Loopt, and others, but what everyone was pretty much talking about was Foursquare and Gowalla. And three years later, Foursquare seems to be the only one standing tall–well until this week.
The location-based service space is rapidly heating up with over a dozen new services set to take off and fight for attention at SXSW starting this Friday. If you think that this is almost like a primary battle like in politics, then you’re absolutely right. Services like Glancee, Banjo, Intro, Sonar, EchoEcho, and many others are seeking the spotlight and to unseat the front-runner service that folks like Robert Scoble and TechCrunch are calling the “must have” app at SXSW: Highlight. But if you’re trying to find a good way to figure out which ones are which, then I suggest you take a look at this great analysis done by TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez.
With SXSW, most people are either wondering about which parties they should RSVP for or which sessions they should put into their schedule. However, the recent news of emerging location-based services has added some unneeded stress in their lives. Contrary to the time when Foursquare and Gowalla did battle, the one consistent thing in that scenario was that they had a bit more privacy associated with it–revealing one’s location to the public (and when others were logged in) was opt-in, but now, the services doing battle all will reveal your proximity to others along with other pertinent information like your interests, your photo, and maybe your biography. It will also reveal mutual friends that you have. I think that’s kind of interesting and useful, but there are some scenarios where just giving out that information freely (without some sort of opt-in) would be a bit much.
Interestingly, this battle royal location services brings a new era in location-based services into light. You might say that it’s the marriage of Google’s failed attempt at using and promoting Latitude with Foursquare to create a service that will slowly change the way we find people. But is there a discernible difference between the 12 or so applications that are fighting for your attention? Let’s take a look at some of the details about these applications as reported byTechCrunch:
Highlight has been getting a lot of attention pre-SXSW, especially from members of the tech scene. The app uses your Facebook profile to match you up with nearby friends who share your interests. Highlight has a very cool and simple design, but it also seems to be moving toward becoming a personal, social CRM system that helps you remember people’s names and when you met them, as well as just suggesting nearby people you may like.
Glancee is most like Highlight, in that it also uses your Facebook profile data and interests to help you discover nearby users. But unlike Highlight, it doesn’t display people’s exact location on a map, only giving a general distance (e.g. “5 miles from you”). People are ranked by distance and common interests. On the app’s homescreen, it summarizes how many things you have in common – possible conversation starters, I suppose. You can then reach out to those suggested folks using the app’s built-in chat function.
Banjo has been around for a bit, but a recent update has given the app enough new polish to see it achieve “featured” status in the iTunes App Store. The best part about Banjo is that it doesn’t have a desolate first-launch experience – that is to say, even if none of your friends use the app, Banjo may still prove useful. Instead of only relying on Facebook, Banjo also taps into data from Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and more, and shows you where people are and what they’re saying/doing, based on their check-ins or geotagged tweets. The app also lets you know when your actual friends are nearby, even if they’re not on Banjo.
Just launched today, INTRO is meant for business, not social, networking. The app is built on top of LinkedIn, and includes messaging, privacy features and a premium “teleport” option that lets you virtually network with others anywhere in the world. In order not to limit itself only to INTRO users, the app also uses Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare data to display other nearby users.
Sonar, updated just in time for SXSW, has moved away from focusing on people checked into particular venues and now focuses more on finding recommended people nearby. The app separates your nearby friends from a section of nearby “relevant” people, who are ranked based on how many friends you have in common. Like Banjo, the app finds nearby users based on their check-ins in (or geotags) on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, but fills out user profiles with data that also includes LinkedIn info. Also, like most others in the space, Sonar can alert you when friends are nearby.
This app will be helpful to those at SXSW who are actually there to attend panels and presentations, not just parties. Why? Because EchoEcho can map your friends indoors, too. The app uses GPS outside then switches to Wi-Fi when you head indoors, using special tech from the startup WifiSlam to map out the interior of the buildings.
Launching just in time for SXSW, Kismet finds nearby people using ambient location data like Highlight and Glancee, but also finds them using active check-in data like Sonar. The app lets you create “pop up events,” too, which can then be discovered by other app users who are nearby (think “happy hour drinks,” “SXSW panel on social apps,” etc.). Nearby people are ranked based on degrees of separation, which extends beyond mutual friends. Kismet is also one of the few that lets you check-in to both Foursquare and Facebook, saving you that extra step.
Glassmap is more of a “Find My Friends” type of service, except one that works cross-platform (iPhone & Android). Built on top of Facebook, Glassmap finds your Facebook friends who are on Glassmap and plots their location in real-time on the map. You can selectively enable or disable who can see your current location, and the app makes smart use of server technology to preserve battery life.
Not to be confused with INTRO, the business-focused app, ntro is for meeting people who share your interests. You can either enter in these interests manually, or have them imported from Facebook. The difference with ntro (which is almost like the social version of INTRO, surprisingly!), is that you can filter through search results by interests and set your own “top” interests very narrowly. (e.g., not just “music” but a name of a band). Ntro also allows you to message users who share interests in common with you.
Mingle is most similar to INTRO, in that its focus is on business networking. You join Mingle using either your LinkedIn account, Facebook account, or you can sign up directly. It will then show you who’s nearby and available for networking using your phone’s GPS. Like INTRO, you can specify your occupation and who you want to meet, but you can also post that “intro” to Facebook, if you choose. The key difference between Mingle and INTRO, however, is that users are ranked by proximity alone on Mingle – there isn’t an indication of the friends or friends of friends you may have in common.
Once you’ve read all of the descriptions, there are two things that kind of become clear…the location-based app industry is slowly moving into creating clones with different niches and those that are the same are becoming very difficult to differentiate themselves from one another. The goal of each of these applications is to help you network and find people, but in an area like SXSW, the one thing that services will want to be absolutely clear about is telling people who are often interested in why they should use your service why they’re different from the others in the marketplace. But as of this point, the best way for people to really figure out what the market leader is going to be is to simply download all the applications to their mobile device. Then, they’ll need to create a screen where all these apps can be easily accessed and then test them out one by one–take them for a test spin, if you will.
Quite frankly, I might just stick with Path or Foursquare and leave it at that this year at SXSW.
Photo Credit: Quandary by Reikhavoc/Flickr