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Location aware applications for mobile have become commonplace. Everything from Foursquare, to Google Latitude to Gowalla to Facebook places. All of these startups rely on one common factor – checkins. In almost all cases, users need to actually be willing to share a status update that shouts to the world exactly where they are, and what they are doing there. In the most part, the incentive for doing so has been driven by gamification on mobile- and the power of game mechanics has driven the majority of these business models.
In the main, they rely on users logging into the apps, and announcing to their social circle “Hey I’m here!”, with a view to becoming a regular (or mayor) of that places. Understandably, in this age of privacy concerns regarding mobile devices, that isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
A number of startups I’ve noticed recently are taking this concept and turning it on its head. Their underlying thinking is that instead of having users compete with each other on some arbitrary leaderboard, why not make location updates more meaningful to their users to drive adoption?
Launching just a few months ago, Highlight is a simple, passive app that helps you learn more about the people around you. As you cross paths with other users of the service – their Highlight profile pops up on your phone showing their name, photos and helping to identify your mutual friends and surfacing any other information that they have chosen to share. I can think of a number of applications for an application such as this – finding friends at a concert, dating or simply making yourself more approachable to others. Currently only available on iPhone.
Glassmap enables users to log in with one-click access through Facebook, see where their friends are, and get notified when one is nearby. Like Highlight, it doesn’t require explicit checkins to signal where a user is at any given time, instead relying on passive location-sharing technology that tracks users automatically.
Where the majority of these apps silently running in the background and polling for location data, you can understand that they are often heavy on battery use. Glassmap have attacked that problem head on, and introduced ‘Relay’ technology which offers a much more efficient way to cope with their background tasks. As a result, battery life is 0.5% per hour for the app, according to founder Geoffrey Woo.
Glancee is closest in features to Highlight, however it offers a tighter privacy focus, and a subtle but smart algorithm for matching to nearby friends from your connected social networks. Glancee is compatible on Apple and Android devices, and is also available directly as a Facebook app. Primarily, it concentrates on connecting people around you that are similar to you in terms of your interests, and the things which you have ‘liked’ within Facebook.
They also use publicly available information from Wikipedia and other sources to build up a more complex interest graph for their users, which means that even if you don’t like exactly the same things as other people, they can still match similar people to you. For example, if you like ‘Oranges’ you may be suggested to people who like ‘Apples’. Its a smart way to ensure adoption, even amongst people who may be two or three nodes away from you algorithmically.
The underlying concept of social awareness provides context to geolocation updates, and lets you search and connect for people around you, with the people that matter to you – and these apps illustrate that thinking perfectly. Will we see more and more passive location applications gain adoption? Or are users not yet willing to provide this level of personal information?. Sound off in the comments.