A Manifesto for Mobile and Location Based Social Networks

Mobile is hot. Untethering from computers is the next generation of the web and I’ve said it for awhile.

FindWhere CEO Jaap Groot and my friend and DoC co-host Geoff Livingston have co-authored a white paper (they call it a manifesto) for mobile and location-based social networks outlining eight requirements for a successful mobile endeavor.

The true local, mobile and social breakthrough requires a completely converged product that will be so intuitive and robust that community members won’t have to wrestle with such a service. Instead, it will be so easy and fun, online community members will clamor to be a part of the craze. They will actively engage, and voluntarily spread the word about their experiences, in hopes that their friends will join them online. The winning service will be so compelling that it will be viral.

They go on to describe the eight factors:

  1. Provide a base offering free of charge. Today’s social network user does not tolerate paid-for services.
  2. Work on a wide selection of phones.
  3. Offer an intelligent, simple user interface for accessing information.
  4. Use GPS rather than force users to manually enter their location every time.
  5. Integrate intelligently into existing social networks rather than further inundate people with a new one.
  6. Allow users to share and use their location data in as many ways as possible.
  7. Enable individuals to set various levels of privacy control for personal security.
  8. Monetize in an intelligent, non-intrusive way

Some of these factors are implemented better than others and some are not technically possible with the mobile client and telcos the way they exist now. Things need to change within the four walls of the carriers.

Twitter Brightkite Facebook Mobile
Free Yes Yes Yes
Phone Support Yes Partial Some
Mobile/iPhone Interface Partial Yes Partial
GPS Compatible* No No No
Existing SocNet Integration Partial Yes No
Location Data easy for Users to Use Yes No Yes No
Privacy/Security Controls Yes Yes Yes
Low Impact Monetization No No Yes
*GPS is carrier-sketchy. Verizon Wireless, for instance, disables in phones

As with all white papers, it is a call to action. A spotlight on gaps in the industry. One day, all of these items will be inherent in the social offerings but it could take 5-10 years to see that occur.

Published by

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

2 thoughts on “A Manifesto for Mobile and Location Based Social Networks”

  1. Hey Aaron,

    Great write-up. A couple of clarifications regarding Brightkite:

    Phone Support – Brightkite actually works on pretty much any US phone that supports text messaging, and we provide the same functionality via mobile e-mail. We also have (as you mention) a generic WAP version of our site, and an iPhone-specific site. I’d argue that we have most bases covered when it comes to phone support.

    GPS compatible – Brightkite already understands latitude/longitude information, and we’ll have native clients for phones coming out within the next month.

    Location Data easy for Users to Use – we provide GeoRSS and KML feeds for all of the activity within Brightkite, making it really easy to share location data, and users have built widgets and other visualizations around it:

    http://blog.brightkite.com/2008/06/02/new-blog-widgets-plugins/
    http://blog.brightkite.com/2008/05/30/brightkite-widgets-are-no-longer-a-pipe-dream/
    http://blog.brightkite.com/2008/05/27/brightkite-kml-support-and-google-earth-visualizations/

    We also have a REST-based API coming. I would argue that we deserve a “Yes” in that category. ;)

    Low Impact Monetization – As you know, we have very concrete plans for monetization that will be very low-impact on the user, and goes beyond the obvious “location-based ads” model.

    Overall, I have to agree with the white paper…those are critical areas for location-based social networks to get right, and rest assured that we’re working on making it happen.

    Martin
    brightkite.com

  2. Martin- would be happy to update the post when Brightkite releases the RESTful API. Also happy to mangle data when it comes around. Thanks for stopping by.

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