Location Sharing Options

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.

Fire Eagle
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.

13 responses to “Location Sharing Options

  1. Pingback: Shizzow Blog · How is Shizzow Different from …?

  2. it feels most like dodgeball to me, which does a pretty good job of doing the same thing. but that doesn’t seem to have critical mass in portland…well, neither does shizzow yet but hopefully it’ll get there (and add text messaging) soon.

  3. Yeah, Dodgeball is an interesting case. It had a following in a few large cities, never picked up here, and then the whole thing lost momentum when Google bought them a couple years ago. Again, maybe just too early for widespread interest? The US is still very slow on adopting those sorts of mobile services.

  4. I’d love to try out Shizzow, but they really, really need to get out of private beta mode — a social location service that I can’t use (much less direct my friends to) is worse than useless, it’s maddening.

    I was perhaps one of ten people in the Portland area to try to use Dodgeball, and it definitely worked well enough, but never hit critical mass. That being said, if the Twitter API is allowing geocoding now, I expect they’ll win this particular round, if only by virtue of the sheer user count. (Of course, without an iPhone, I suspect I’ll be left out in the no-geo weeds, but them’s the breaks.)

  5. The problem with location on Twitter is that it’s mostly using a single text field with no consensus on format. Some services want a city name, some want lat/long. And some, like Twittervision, are looking for the info in your posts. So there’s a lot of extra glue required to make this useful. We’ll do better with a location service that keeps full geographic info pushing relevant updates to Twitter, not the other way around.

    ETA: A Get Satisfaction style Twitter feed import to a location tracker might be cool, though. Users would grab relevant tweets and geotag them, marking that that’s what they’re doing here. I could see that being a useful feature.

  6. I am an avid FE, Twitter and Brightkite user. Its hard to take your comparison seriously when many of your facts about the services outside of Shizzow quite incorrect. For example why even bring this up when it was updated long ago:
    http://brightkite.com/account/not_logged_in . If anything it shows Bkite listens to their community and addresses the problems. I could list many more but why waste the time? People see thru un-benevolent posts such as this.

  7. Tray, that’s great that Brightkite is working well for you. I tried it for a while last spring, and found that lots of little problems made it hard to use, and not a helpful addition to my life. That’s why I’m glad that people are continuing to offer new location-based services, so I can find things that work well for me, and the social groups I’m a part of.

  8. There is another service, pbxes.org that allows location sharing. A client needs to be installed on the mobile from http://pbxes.org/m to localize by cell towers.

  9. Pingback: Silicon Florist’s links arrangement for August 15 » Silicon Florist

  10. Theres so many cool things about this. Some day everyone is going to be linked by social networking programs and no one will talk anymore in real life

  11. Wow, your views are incredibly bias and filled with very few facts (though you appear to present them as facts).

    You say Brightkite sucks? Wow, great statement…very professional.

    BrightKite and Shizzow are what users make of them. You may only see the city someone is in on brightkite, but that is because thats the only info the user entered.

    As far as I can tell (as a brightkite user), the shizzow features you mention are not unique to Shizzow…they are all present in BrightKite.

    Take a look at the business listings in Brightkite vs Shizzow…looks like they are accessing the SAME data.

    Hey, as a Portlander, I hope Shizzow succeeds. Just be careful not to be blinded from reality. You sound like the sportscaster that is a total ‘homer’ and is unrealistic about his team.

  12. I have to concur with Jeff the Great. This post lacks facts and is slanted towards Shizzow (created by friends of yours by any chance?).
    Especially the Brightkite review is highly inaccurate.

  13. Folks, I said what I did about Brightkite because I honestly found the user experience frustrating enough that I didn’t want to use it anymore. People were asking why they’d use Shizzow over Brightkite, and I wanted to answer that, from my own perspective.

    Yes, Shizzow being a local company is an advantage in that I can talk to the developers in person if I have questions or need help. But that doesn’t stop me from giving their service the same level of criticism if something isn’t working, and you will see that here or on Twitter or their Get Satisfaction page.

    Whether an application works for me has to do with a number of factors beyond the feature list. Like Twitter and its competitors, location sharing is an area with a number of very similar options from the features perspective. Many of us have tried several services and only kept on with one or two of them. I felt it was worth discussing why that might be the case.