The latest shiny-new-toy that people seem to be playing with is Brightkite, a location-based social network. You can think of it as a sort of Twitter for location information. I’ve been using it for the last few days and so far I like what I see.
Brightkite started as a TechStars startup, and they recently closed a round of funding. CNET posted a decent writeup on the company today which includes some good background information, so check that out if you want to learn more about them.
To get started with Brightkite, you need to “check in” at a location. You can do this by specifying an address, business, or a “placemark”. Placemarks are like saved locations, so you could create a placemark called “Home” with your home address. In my testing thus far, searching for addresses is excellent but searching for businesses never returns anything.
Once you’ve checked in, Brightkite will show you people who are near you, and you can look at people who have visited that location in the past. You can also post notes (like a status update) and photos at your location. In case you’re wondering, Brightkite actually has really excellent privacy control options, so you can choose who can see your location and to what level of detail.
Like Twitter, I think Brightkite is something you need to use to truly grok. Here are my favorite things about the service thus far:
- I think they’ve nailed the basic concepts. Placemarks make sense, and checking in at a location isn’t as cumbersome as you might think.
- They use Twitter and Satisfaction for customer service. They’re also bloggers.
- Just yesterday they launched a wicked iPhone interface. I love it!
- I find the main web interface friendly and easy-to-use.
Of course, Brightkite is far from perfect. Some things I’d love to see improved:
- The SMS interface doesn’t work in Canada. Brightkite would be a million times more useful if I could update via text message.
- You can update via email, but it’s really picky about not having signatures and other content in the body.
- Brightkite will show you the places you’ve visited and how many times you’ve visited them, but I think what would be really useful is the ability to see your routes on a map.
Another huge item for me is an API, and the only reason I left it out of the list above is that I know they’re actively working on it. I think Brightkite usage could explode if they do the API right, a la Twitter.
Of course, a social network is really only useful if there are people on it and that’s definitely one thing that is keeping me from truly experiencing Brighkite. There are a few Edmonton people on the service, but not enough that I’ve been close to anyone yet! I have four invites left if you’d like to join 🙂
I am eager to see how Brightkite improves and grows. With a few more features and some tweaking, it could become extremely useful for me. There are a bunch of location-based services out there, but so far Brightkite is the first one I’ve really liked.