Where am I?

Though I consider myself a netizen, I don’t live online (yet). I remain tethered to the real world, in real physical space. The lines are beginning to blur somewhat however, thanks to the increasing popularity of location-based online services.

A good example of this is Brightkite, a service I’ve written about a couple of times. In a nutshell, Brightkite gives you a way to say “here I am in the real world!” For example, when I get to work in the morning I “check in”. You can see this action in two ways: on my profile (or at any service that sucks in my profile, such as FriendFeed) and on the place itself. Each place inside Brightkite has a unique ID which means every real world location has a corresponding digital representation. That’s powerful!

The problem with Brightkite is that I need to manually check in. This is where Google Latitude comes in. The service was launched on Wednesday:

Latitude is a new feature for Google Maps on your mobile device. Once you’ve opted in to Latitude, you can see the approximate location of your friends and loved ones who have decided to share their location with you.

Ready to share your location? If you have a mobile smartphone, visit google.com/latitude on your phone’s web browser to download the latest version of Google Maps for mobile with Latitude.

It’s annoyingly basic, but it works. I’ve got it running on my BlackBerry so my location is updated in real-time everywhere I go. That means that Google Latitude knows I am in the office before I actually get on the computer to check in on Brightkite.

Obviously it would be better to have Latitude and Brightkite work together. The Brightkite team have said on Twitter that they’ll look into it as soon as Latitude has an API. I hope that happens relatively soon!

Why does all of this matter? Because location is vitally important. Today it might seem geeky to broadcast your location on the web, but in the not-to-distant future, I’m betting it’ll be completely ordinary. Your social graph and location-aware services will be the first beneficiaries of this information, but others will follow. It’s exciting to consider!

In the meantime, feel free to add me on these services. I’m mastermaq@gmail.com on Google Latitude, and mastermaq on Brightkite.

Brightkite is now public, but still seems empty to me

brightkite I first wrote about location-based social network Brightkite back in May. At that time the service was still in invite-only private beta. Today, Brightkite went into public beta:

Invitations are no longer required and sign up is now open everyone. In addition, you can now invite your friends to join Brightkite without restriction.

Even though we are announcing the public beta today, keep watch over the next few weeks for a significant iPhone update, additional mobile support, additions to our API and a host of new features and improvements.

Ignoring the fact that they’re still calling it a beta, I think this is good news. I hope it means that more users will join the service, because it still seems pretty empty at the moment, at least for an Edmontonian like myself! Looking at “People Near Me” page shows only seven people in the area (4000 meters) and only three of them have been active in the last day or so.

Maybe opening up to the public won’t be enough to get people to join though. Perhaps Brightkite should add support for the newly launched Facebook Connect? Or heck, maybe Twitter should acquire and integrate Brightkite. That would make me happy!

My favorite way to use Brightkite at the moment is via the relatively new iPhone/iPod touch native app. It’s fast, and works quite well. The only way it could be better is if it ran in the background and could check me in automagically.

The issues I noted in my previous post still exist:

  • SMS doesn’t work in Canada, so I can’t update with a text message.
  • Mobile email is picky about format, both subject and body.
  • I can see all the places I have visited and how many times I have visited each one, but I still think it would be neat to see a route for a given period of time.

That said, they’ve got a pretty good API now, they support Fire Eagle, and they’ve made a bunch of nice improvements to the UI. Brightkite seems to be growing and improving, albeit slowly.

If you’re curious, I’d invite you to sign up and give Brightkite a shot. Be sure to add me as a friend when you do!

Brightkite is cool so far

brightkite 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.