This week Portland added a new service to the location tracking options available. It’s called Shizzow, and it does a neat job of addressing the local Twitter crowd’s desire to see not just what others are doing, but where they’re hanging out (so we can stop by). I’ve been seeing a lot of people asking “How is this different than other services?”, and since I’m using most of them, here’s how things stack up for me.
Aside from being local, Shizzow has some of the details down that other services have struggled with. You get a time-ordered listing of where your friends are when you first log in, most of the time you can set your location by typing in a place-name (so you don’t have to know the address), and friendship is asymmetric (though you can also set your profile to private, and pick who gets access). There’s still a few places for improvement, but they nailed the primary use case really well. When the API is available, I think we’ll be seeing desktop and iPhone apps to make this even simpler.
Yahoo’s Fire Eagle just became publicly available this week, so this is the main one people are asking to compare. The main thing to keep in mind is that even though it stores and tracks location, this service is actually the most different from any of the others. Fire Eagle focuses on providing a secure repository for your location data, that other apps access through the API. The idea is to store your location in one place, then use it everywhere.I’ve only started to play with some of the possibilities, but given the interesting things iPhone apps are doing with its location features, I expect we’ll be seeing similar things with FireEagle integration soon.
So, BrightKite is like Shizzow. Except it kinda sucks. It handles location reporting pretty poorly most of the time, and frequently all you see is what city someone is in. I’ve also found it hard to tell where people I know are currently, at a glance. There are a bunch of UI details that rankle, like not having a log in form on the “Sorry, you have to log in to do that” page (
maybe they finally changed that, but it was seriously annoyingUpdate: a commenter says this has been fixed). It’s trying to build up place info with photos and comments, too, but mostly I don’t care about that. Other services do it better.
Now, Plazes has been around the longest. Which you would think would be an advantage, but… They seem to keep making major changes that turn off the existing users (and add downtime). The Plazer, a desktop app that updates your location based on recognizing the wifi router you’re connected through (users add new places to the database), is a pretty neat feature, but it also doesn’t work when you’re not using your laptop. Maybe they were too early. It’s not a bad service, but it never really clicked. Nokia recently bought the company.
Twitter isn’t really a location tracker, but I have to mention it anyhow because people use it as one all the time. Portlanders are very familiar with seeing “I’m at Green Dragon, stop in and have a beer if you’re nearby”. Twitter recently added the ability to set a user’s location through the API, so the iPhone version of Twitterific uses this to try to flag messages by users nearby (alas, it only works if their location is set in the same lat/long format).
So there you go. Lots to play with. There’s a huge amount of potential to interlink services, both within this sphere and out to other kinds of data and interaction, and we’re still only seeing the first pieces.