Location based social network applications roundup and review
When not spending time with my family, I have been looking at a range of new and developing location based social network applications designed for the mobile. A summary of each one is presented below with links to their websites. What I have seen in the first few months of the year is a rapid rise in the number of location aware or location enabled mobile social networking applications.
It is easy to characterise them – they either have full GPS integration (if available in the handset), or they use some hybrid technology such as the WiFi location service from Skyhook Wireless (Loki), or Google’s My Location feature that has been built on their proprietary base station almanac (list of mobile operator Cell-IDs by physical location, operator and network code). In the most basic form, the application requires you to actually enter where you are (eg I’m in London).
This is really all about presence, and feeds rather nicely into social networking applications such as Facebook, MySpace etc. Mobile social networking is the natural extension from the web based versions of these major sites to the mobile. It is the mobile’s ability to provide real-time location, and in turn presence (“I’m shopping in London“) that will provide a real boost to the mobile versions of these sites.
Finally, instead of just being a cut-down version of the main site, the mobile version will add real time value with presence from location services.
I think it is unlikely that a mobile social networker will want to publish a map of exactly where they are for all to see – but they may wish to promote where they are relative to their profile, community or local area.
Listed below is a quick summary of applications I have tested recently or use on a regular basis.
Locr is essentially a photo blogging site that has a neat mobile application for Symbian and other platforms that geocodes the location where the photo was taken from the GPS fix and provides an easy way to promote these gotagged photos on a purpose built website. I first came across this site on the Nokia Download! section of the Series 60 deck – so they must be keen to promote this application. The website and mobile application also allows you to see photos taken close to your current location.
Loki by Skyhook Wireless who have taken a novel approach to location, using WiFi enabled handsets to compare against a list of WiFi base stations surveyed by Skyhook staff – and calculating the location. The Loki application is available in an Internet Explorer or FireFox plug-in as well as a Symbian 60 application for WiFi enabled handsets.
Locatik from Psiloc. I first came across this application at the Symbian Smart Show in London in 2007, and it pre-dates Google’s My Location initiative, but approaches it in a very similar way – using GPS enabled phones to report the GPS location with the Cell-ID’s reported by the phone to build a global database of Cell-IDs. Non GPS users who visit a similar place will report back the local Cell-ID and the Locatik database will estimate a position and plot it on a Google map based on the previous GPS survey. It also has a few neat services on the mobile application – allowing you to see how close other friends are that are also running the Locatik application.
Rummble – I found this only recently thanks to a post on my blog from Andrew Scott. Rummble is one of a number of mobile social networking sites that integrate presence into a mobile and web based site. Here though you have to tell the application where you are – and it updates your presence and makes it available to other trusted Rummble users.
Gypsii – I have been following Gypsii for a while, and they came out of stealth mode at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. They have a tightly integrated mobile application that makes use of the GPS fix and also provides a mapping ability on the handset. The website is building a community based around location, and invites users to blog and post photos etc on interesting places. When you are in the same area, you can see what other Gypsii users thought.
Shozu – one of my personal favourite applications. I am mainly using it as a mobile photo geotagging tool (it reads the internal GPS and tags photos for upload to sites such as flickr with just one click – nice!). It doesn’t stop there, and allows mobile blogging, photo sharing, and video posting. I believe Shozu will be a major “must have” mobile application for even the nomob (normal mobile) user.�
Nokia maps – recently upgraded at Mobile World Congress to version 2.0 (beta), this refresh of a the application which was one of the Gate5 acquisition benefits. The application now caters for those of us who navigate on foot, and has a number of pedestrian modes. The UI is slightly cleaner and gives a direct indication of satellite strength and GSM/UMTS network status. Luckily all of my geo-favourites were imported cleanly from Maps 1.0 to Maps 2.0, however I had to refresh all of the map data stored on my memory card. It is a useful application as the maps are stored locally, so getting off a plane in a foreign country, you have instant access to maps (as long as you have side loaded them) instead of pulling the maps down over the air.
Google Mobile Maps with My Location – the big daddy of them all. Google have thrown their might and massive processing power around a well built mobile application that works across multiple platforms and is helping to build the world’s largest base station almanac that is operator independent. Most operators I have spoken with in multiple countries around the world have told me they have not provided their cell-ID lists to Google (and even if they did they change very often).
Google are taking advantage of Google Mobile Maps users running version 2.0 and higher who have GPS enabled and switched on and adding the exact GPS fix to the cell-IDs heard in this location to a global database. Put simply, it allows me to get off an airplane in a new city, fire up GMM and hit the “0” key to find where I am on a map to within 1700-5000m accuracy even if I don’t have a GPS phone or a GPS fix.
While this is a proprietary solution (and it unlikely that it will be integrated anytime soon into the Yahoo! Fire Eagle platform), you don’t have to have a big imagination to understand how this might be used in a mobile social networking environment.
Yahoo Go! 3.0 This application is the closest to Google Mobile Maps (no surprise as they are a fierce competitor), but the native application is more tightly integrated into the Yahoo! suite of social networking applications such as Flickr, Yahoo Mail and news etc. It has a good mapping client, and it is integrated with GPS if available. The application does not yet have the “My Location” feature that Google Maps has, but I assume Yahoo will be working on this – with initiatives such as Zonetag and Fire Eagle.
Zonetag is a Yahoo initiative which is similar to Shozu, and it allows users to geotag photos and send them directly to Flickr. As indicated on the Fire Eagle website, “soon you will be able to update your location directly from your phone with zonetag” – so fingers crossed we will see this feature soon.
Jaiku (still in invite only mode) is now owned by Google and is very similar to twitter, but with a neat S60 application that allows much of the website’s functionality to go mobile. In addition, the S60 application takes the country code of the handset and publishes this, along with availability (which profile the phone is in – green if “general” or red if “silent”).
In effect, the Jaiku mobile application provides the phone book with presence, as each contact who is also on Jaiku has their presence (green/red etc) published next to their name. The best mash-up would be if Jaiku pushes the Cell-ID and LAC to the Google My Location application to provide better accuracy than country level on a user’s Jaiku profile. Technically linking Jaiku with My Location should be fairly easy, and using the power of the Google global base station almanac, this would make Jaiku the clear winner in the GPS and operator independent live location/presence update stakes – will Jaiku do this?
I’ll update this post as I test more mobile social applications that have either a location of presence element. If you would like me to review your application, then please contact me and I will have a look. Note I am a Symbian 60 3rd edition user so please make sure you have a S60 application version to review.