I am here, where is everyone else?

Since the iPhone app store came online, I’ve been playing with a number of mobile social networks. There’s no shortage of them: Limbo, Loopt, Where and Whrrl are all attempting to play in the space.

The central idea of mobile social networks is to connect you with your friends while you’re out and about. Unfortunately, they all require you to rebuild your friend list. Early versions of the Loopt app went so far as to spam people in your iPhone’s address book with text messages.

Local events on Where

Local events on Where

Here are some of the keys to success in mobile social networks:

  • It’s the network, stupid. Getting people to create Yet Another Network won’t work. I’ve already created my network. Use it. My only friend on the iPhone version of Loopt is 2,500 miles away — hardly someone I can run into when I’m out in San Francisco on the weekend. Loopt and Where have Facebook apps, but their iPhone versions don’t seem to tie into them.
  • Let me control when I update my location. Location is very personal. Don’t automatically update my location just because I’ve launched your application. I may just want to check something.
  • Let me publish beyond your app. Early adopters who try your app are willing to accept that there is a ramp up period, but they aren’t going to do work for zero return. If I my update my status and no one is there to see it, have I updated my status? Let me automatically publish the information I collect using your app to Facebook, Twitter and my blog. Not only does it give me a reason to use your app, it becomes a distribution vehicle for you, providing exposure to my friends who just might say “How’d he do that?” I taught a lot of my friends about Facebook mobile simply by updating my status from my phone. (Facebook puts a mobile phone icon next to such updates.)
  • Seed your app with other content sources. If I don’t have friends, at least give me other content that makes your app worth using. Where does a good job of this, pulling in content from Yelp, eventful and Zipcar. If you can, get ego bloggers like Scoble to use your app.
  • 128 King St is not a place. Pete’s Tavern is. Whenever posting information, it should include a human understandable version. You’d never post a location of 37.778911, -122.391223; a street address is marginally more helpful. With the margin of error built into GPS and density of urban areas, place names are critical.
  • Let me take pictures. For a long time, mobile developers haven’t had access to cell phone cameras. With the iPhone, they do. The ability to take and send a picture makes it easier to communicate a lot of information quickly. And it adds life to your application. (Bonus points for dropping a copy of the picture in my flickr account.)
  • Tie into IM and SMS. Loopt claims that the most commonly asked question via SMS is “Where are you?” That claim is probably made up marketing b.s. without any hard data. Nevertheless, it is a frequent question. Make it easy for me to answer it. Let me send an SMS or IM that includes where I’m at (Pete’s Tavern, 128 King St.). To anyone. Include a URL with a map and optionally a picture.
  • Don’t spam my friends. What you do with my friends’ contact information reflects on me. If you spam my friends, I will never use your application again. And I will tell everyone you’re a spammer.

Tying into the various APIs I mentioned may seem like a lot of work — and it is. But the alternative is spending a lot of money on distribution and marketing.

See also:


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
This entry was posted in apple, facebook, flickr, gps, im, instant messaging, iphone, lbs, mobile, social networking, twitter, where, yelp. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to I am here, where is everyone else?

  1. Martin says:

    You might want to check out what we built with Brightkite. It covers almost all of the above.

  2. I played with Brightkite a couple of months back.

    Last I checked, though, there wasn’t an iPhone app… just the iPhone-optimized site. Without access to the GPS and the camera, it’s missing some of the key ingredients.

    Looking forward to seeing the iPhone app.

  3. Hey Rakesh great post, it gives us a lot to contemplate as we’re working on Whrrl and we’ve passed it around the office today for discussion.

    I hope you’ll check out Whrrl, I’d love to get your feedback on what we’ve been working on. You can use Whrrl via SMS as well as and on the web, and we’ve also got an iPhone app and support many other phones with our J2ME app. There is also integration with Twitter, so you can post your status or location from Whrrl to Twitter.

    I’ve been working for the past year on data acquisition and content management and what you said, about place names being critical when posting information, really resonates with me. We’ve got a very unique approach to collecting the deep content we have about points of interest on the map, I’d love to tell you more about it offline. Cheers!

  4. Danielle,

    One of my issues with the Whhrl iPhone app (fortunately, easily rectified) is that the default map view has too much data.

    I don’t need to see every possible business from InfoUSA plotted there, just businesses I’d be likely to frequent… especially in a social content. Restaurants, bars, retail, etc. Let the user search for infrequent use cases instead of cluttering up the map.

    That would also allow you to color code (or icon code) those remaining categories.

  5. And when I post location to Twitter with Whrrl, the clickthru URL shows the correct business, but the map shows Seattle.

  6. Ethan says:

    I’ve been using WHERE on my iPhone, I’m very pleased with it. I can use the location based social network and/or use their free widgets for any type of point of interest. I would recommend

  7. Rocky,

    You rock! Thank you for the feedback, it ties really well with some things we’re working on right now and gives us some food for thought on stickier issues. If you’d be willing, and have the time, I’d love to have a chance to talk to you as you use Whrrl in realtime and get your thoughts on some upcoming concepts we are testing out. I hope I’ll hear back from you (drop me a note on Twitter @DanielleMorrill)

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