Thursday, October 2

Please Be My Closely-Proximal Friend Who Likes Dive Bars

Social networks are rapidly migrating into mobile territory to keep up with their users. Mashing up the cellphone's GPS capabilities with Google Maps has led to the latest trend = social mapping.

Basically it is nothing more than finding your "friend's" current location on a map. Or maybe your "friend's" latest comments about the Thai restaurant that is just around the corner. Newsweek, Washington Post, and Technology Review provide decent overviews of the trend. Especially love the story of the guy who used it to avoid people, rather than meet up with them. The antisocial social machine.

The iPhone has become the premiere launching pad for a lot of these social apps: Yelp, Where, Platial Nearby, Loopt, Whrrl, Moximity, seem to be leading the path. Nokia purchased UK-based social mapper Plazes, so expect that functionality to be automatically loaded into their phones. Google Android's mobile operating system should attract even more social map providers and provide access across multiple cellphone types.

Which leads to the bigger question = if anyone can tack on a GPS Google Map to their service or application, does it become so autonomous that the "find your friends" feature is irrelevant? Do I need all my friends to be signed up and using all these apps in order for them to provide value?

Many of these start ups have fallen into the risky business model based on "he with the most users signed up wins." Which is fine when there is only a limited amount of competition. But there are currently 88 social networking apps available for the iPhone, all of which could become GPS map enabled. Slim chance any of my "friends" are also using them. Not to mention that they now also have to be physically located close to me to be of interest.

Expect the social network giants like Facebook and MySpace to buy up the ones that have the best technology or interface, incorporate it into a new tab on their mobile app, and quickly decimate an entire start up vertical. Or just ignore them completely and do it on their own. Either way the same outcome prevails.

On the other hand, with the Google-supported OpenId movement, there is a chance that these apps could grab onto the holy grail of an XML friend list feed. Thus not requiring you to build up your friend list from scratch on each app, just import one from your fave social network site. Then the apps with the best features or niche community focus could prosper. Which would be great for Google, since any app using a Google map mashup becomes lucrative advertising space for them. I'm sure they would prefer to have it spread across multiple social map providers, each signed up with the AdSense network and receiving micro-kickbacks when a Google map link is clicked.

As for me, I'm working on the new iPhone app Loozr, which shows you where everyone else's friends are and how much fun they are having. Then connects you to other Loozrz in your area. The bar around the corner offers a half price "beer to cry in" if you show up in the next 15 minutes and invite 3 other Loozrz to join you.

But be careful, collect too many Loozr friends in a 1 mile radius and you get kicked off the app. Being antisocial has never been so much fun.

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