Is location a context or an endgame…

[UPDATED – Gary wrote a response to this post in another post – good man πŸ˜‰ ]

Or can it be both.

Gary Gale (director of engineering at the Geo technology group in Yahoo) mentions echoecho in an interesting story on his Posterous blog.

While his theory of stuff is a fun abstraction of social network business models – a few of his comments deserved a response – so I’m posting mine here.

Gary appears to have misunderstood a subtle (but nonetheless vital) aspect of the echoecho service.
He said that “echoecho promises all manner of good stuff by showing you where your friends are regardless of which location based service they currently use”

In actual fact it does no such thing πŸ˜‰

What Gary is describing is a sort of LBMS aggregator – as it happens I’m honestly surprised more of those don’t exist yet but echoecho is most certainly not one of them (kudos to @orineidich for first elaborating on his wishes for one)

As I have also blogged before – echoecho is not social network. Because honestly who wants one of those – yet another social graph to replicate, yet another profile to create… we already have a social network on our phones…it’s called our phone book πŸ˜‰

It is of course not very sensible to describe a new service by saying what it isn’t – so let’s recap what it is. echoecho allows you to ask and answer the question where are you? as easily and simply as possible.

that’s it.

sure in the future the service may extend with some other nice tricks we have up our sleeve but for now it’s extremely simple and extremely efficient.

You ask someone where they are by clicking one button. They answer (or not – as the case may be) and you see their location on a map.
It’s a sort of instance-based location sharing – because you cannot get their location without giving up yours.

Think of it as a cross between a permission based SMS and a tweet – the idea is that it becomes as easy and ubiquitous as SMS.

The large number of user signups (even though we are only 3.5 weeks out of beta) speak volumes to the fact that people want a simple service.

Now as we all know no matter what kind of service you attempt to get a user to join – every single piece of information you ask from them, every single click they have to perform etc etc – is a barrier to a new user signup. Especially as Location services move into the mainstream – if this stuff isn’t so easy that my mother can do it – she’s just not going to do it.

Of course you can guess that the punchline is that even my mom can use echoecho πŸ˜‰

Now back to Gary’s theory…the whole people/stuff/secret sauce thing is interesting and there are valid reasons to consider who’s nearby and where are my friends as dangerous business models.

However how do you apply that theory of stuff to something like regular old SMS ?? a one-to-one communication tool.

Clearly there are people – and let’s say that the inter-network communication protocols form the secret sauce – but what is the stuff ??

Is the stuff is the content of each message??
Or is there no stuff…

And if there’s no stuff – then would Gary argue that SMS is a failure ?
Many mobile providers might beg to differ.

(let’s not even mention of course the 800 pound gorilla in the room – namely privacy in the context of location sharing)

In our case – we surmised that the fundamental question many people wanted to ask is neither “who’s near me” or “where are all my friends” – but “Where the hell is John?”, “Where’s my girflfriend?” or perhaps if you were running late for a meeting you want to quickly communicate your own location to someone else.

So we built a bidirectional open-API location sharing service…(the mobile phone clients the users are using happen to be an app that’s running on top of our API) – one of the things we’re working on now is integrating web services like Linked-in so you can echo people from the web…

I’ll leave you with these two quick notes…

(assuming for the moment that we pretend that the dog’s dinner involved with actually joining one of the other location sharing services – and I don’t care if it’s loopt, latitude, foursquare, brightkite, gowalla etc etc – is actually a streamlined easy to use process that takes hardly any time at all)

1. You’re on your way to meet a friend….and you want to know where they are (this is a pretty common scenario)…

Are you going to

(a) use a check-in service – e.g. foursquare – to see where they checked in recently ??

Yeah…no.

(b) call them or text them – simultaneously having to explain to them where you are, how far away etc etc etc

sure you could do that but it takes time and besides you have to know where you are in order to describe this accurately.

(c) Or is there a more efficient way……well that’s what we’re trying to be.

2. Likewise – if you’re on your way to a business meeting and you want to inform them of your location (could be your lawyer, accountant, an executive, an interview etc) are you going to use an LBMS which gives out discounted food vouchers or free mayorships ??

No – I didn’t think so.

Sharing your location with friends is not the same as a facebook status/twitter/microblog that gets shunted into an RSS like feed all your followers can grab. It can be that way for a niche group of hardcore users who all use it heavily…but for the great majority there’s an interesting problem here – which doesn’t appear to be discussed by many. (although a recent RWW article touches on the so-called late adopters)

With twitter-like/microblog services (including twitter itself) – if 90% of the traffic comes from 10% of the users that’s still giving value to way more than 10% of the users. They read interesting posts, possibly re-tweet them and the network gets more intelligent (services like tweetdeck have a business model etc etc)

But if you apply the same kind of metric to a check-in location service – that service is screwed. Because if 90% of the users of the service don’t “check-in” the value of the network falls rapidly downwards…

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One response to “Is location a context or an endgame…

  1. If you’re going to be nice enough to mail me and tell me how and where you think I’m wrong and write a long blog post out of it, then the least I can do is go back, revisit echoecho.me and write a blog post about it. Which is exactly what I’ve done.

    http://www.vicchi.org/2010/02/22/contextual-location-and-echoecho-redux/

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