Well, after a lot of effort over the past six months or so, and having been in alpha testing for the past couple of months, we have now declared our “where you gonna be” application to be in beta and opened it up to the world. Thanks to my co-developers Glen and Nate for all their efforts in getting us to this point! There are still a huge number of things on our to do list of course, and you will see a lot more very cool functionality appearing over the next couple of months, but we wanted to get the basic application out there to start building up some users and get feedback from more people. See the following video for a general introduction to the application (I strongly recommend clicking on the link underneath the video and selecting full screen HD if you have a fast connection, the quality is much better):
The key idea of the system is that you and your friends tell us where and when you will be doing things in the future, and we look at this information to tell you when you will be close by to your friends. Even if you end up not being close to your friends, we give you various ways to see what they are doing, which is a good way of keeping up with them in a similar way to Facebook status messages or Twitter, but in a richer fashion which adds both a spatial and temporal element - the ability to display what they are doing on a map, and see what they are doing over time, rather than just right now. This focus on the future is our biggest differentiator - there are lots of systems focused on where you are right now (and we see lots of opportunities for integrating with them, but that’s a topic for a future post).
Future location has two significant advantages over current location. The first is that if you only find out right now that a friend is close by, the chances are that one or other of you already has commitments and so you can’t meet up. But if you knew yesterday or last week that you would be close by, you could have worked out your schedule so that you could meet up. Secondly, “where are you now” applications typically require a location-aware phone, and these still don’t have big enough market penetration to really give this type of application the critical mass that it needs to take off. All you need to use our application is a web browser. Of course, the challenge of future location is that you can’t infer it automatically, so one of the critical success factors for us is making it very easy to create activities. Currently this is a manual process, which we have tried to make as easy as possible, but this is an area where you will see a lot of new functionality over the next month or two, with much more in the way of calendar integration and functionality to make it much easier to create a trip with multiple activities.
We have a precise spatial and temporal resolution, unlike other applications we have seen in this space, which tend to have spatial resolution of a city and temporal resolution of a day. This means we have many local applications as well as more global ones - like identifying which friends will be in an airport at the same time as you, or identifying opportunities to coordinate rides when transporting kids to after school activities, or working out which friends will be in bars close to you this Friday night.
We have developed what we think is a very cool interface to Google Earth, which leverages its time capabilities nicely. Check out the following video to get a flavor of this (again, I strongly recommend clicking on the link beneath the video and then displaying the full screen HD version):
Our application currently runs on the Facebook Platform. The big advantage of this is that you don’t need to re-enter your network of friends, you can just leverage the existing social graph that you have in Facebook. In future we will support other social and business networking systems - LinkedIn is an obvious target for the business traveler, and of course OpenSocial is on our list too.
So anyway, please give the application a try and let us know what you think. Now that we have the beta release out “in the wild” I’ll be blogging a lot more about some of the technology behind it and some of the things we plan to do in the future.