SingularityHub: Do You Know Where Your Children Are? Your Phone Does. Geo-Tracking Heats Up.

Aaron Saenz at SingularityHub wrote a really extensive piece of geolocation and the various solutions out there. SingularityHub article

http://singularityhub.com/2010/08/09/do-you-know-where-your-children-are-your-phone-does-geo-tracking-heats-up/

There was a lot in this article but I’d like to just comment on 2 of his key thoughts:

Where is all this geo-tracking headed? To some crazy places, let me tell you. It’s becoming pretty common to have your friends know where you are through social networks with geo-tagging capabilities.

I actually disagree with Aaron’s assertion that it’s becoming ‘pretty common’ to have your friends know where you are. It’s absolutely true that Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, and a whole host of other services allow you to geotag your location. But if I look at how my friends behave (primarily late-20’s and early-30’s technology early-adopters), I would have to say that a only tiny percentage of them actually do this routinely.

If I look at my Facebook news stream over the past week, I can identify at most 3 or 4 friends (out of a few hundred) that have posted their location every day out of all the various applications they can use to do so (Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Loopt, etc.) The more typical pattern I see is that someone joins one of these services and uses it heavily for a week or so, then quickly tapers off in their usage. Obviously there are exceptions to this example!

The key question is, why?

We think the answer is two-fold. Firstly: privacy. Most people don’t (yet) want all their friends to know where they are.

Secondly: lack of value. The ideal use case is serendipity – you happen to be just next door to your long-lost best friend from college but were unaware until your mobile social network alerted you to the fact. But the critical mass required for serendipity to routinely occur to the average user appears a long way off.

We think families are quite a different use case for both these reasons. The interpersonal bindings within a family tend to be stronger, the level of trust higher (as it should be!). Thus the privacy concerns are mitigated as long as the information stays within the family.

Families are also a better use case in terms of value. You see your family every day (or almost every day). The person you call most often on the phone to say “Where are you now?” is likely to be a spouse or family member. So providing that information in an easy, secure, and timely fashion makes real sense to our users.

The other thought I wanted to address was with respect to spouses. From the article:

But for spouses? Let’s look at BindTwo, the significant other version of ChildPulse and Whereoscope (same developer). BindTwo amounts to a sort of mate spying system. It can be used for good…or for evil. Jealous of your boyfriend? Now you can track him and call him if he goes somewhere you don’t like. I love the quote on their site that I think sums up the situation nicely: “BindTwo isn’t a creepy stalker app, it’s just a simple way to find your partner.” Oh, sure, totally.

I always thought it was a great tool for couples, but was prepared to believe that my innate bias as a developer was clouding my judgment. However when we launched, we were immediately contacted by couple after couple after couple, asking if they could use ChildPulse even though they had no kids. James and I are pretty devoted to getting feedback from our users, so we are having lengthy email conversations with many of them.

I have not yet heard from one jealous partner asking to spy on their girlfriend or boyfriend.

Every couple we’ve talked to has expressed a sincere desire to make meeting up easier, know when their partner’s coming home, and so on. It’s easy to make the joke as you do above, but I don’t think our users were lying to us.

If you lack trust in your relationship, these tools won’t solve that, and they’re not designed to. But if you have trust in your partner, our service seems to make people happier.

Wow this post is a lot longer than I’d initially planned 🙂 Let me sum up by saying I thought your article was excellent – it touched on many of the key issues that we think about on a daily basis.

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2 Responses to SingularityHub: Do You Know Where Your Children Are? Your Phone Does. Geo-Tracking Heats Up.

  1. Aaron says:

    Hi Mick,
    Thanks for responding to the article. Here are some more responses in turn (iteration is wonderful)

    1) Is checking in via geo-tracking services ‘commmon’? Hmm…My social circle, like yours, is probably a biased sample set. For now I’ll agree with you that the general answer is probably no. But the capability for geographic check-ins is spreading through the App-sphere. I think that such check-in features will dramatically increase in use as local businesses start to make offers (such as the 4Square mayor of a bar drinks for free)as a means of cheap crowd-sourced promotion.

    2) Is BindTwo stalkerish? Well, that was mainly a joke. You make a fine product and, as I state later in the article, it is one that I would use simply for the convenience it would afford my wife and I. (‘Would’ because she doesn’t have a iPhone 3Gs or 4G yet)

    Still, the potential for misuse is clear. As with any technology, we’ll bend geo-tracking to our normal range of human activity. Most uses will be normal and for the good of a family (or pair) but give it a few years and I’m sure we’ll see illicit trysts foiled by geo-tracking appearing on FailBlog. It’s just part of the game.

    A final note, I’m happy that Childpulse/Whereoscope/BindTwo is in that game. Your product looks really well made and most of the ‘winning formula’ I describe in the article comes from where I think your product is/is headed. I look forward to when geo-tracking works across a wider variety of platforms (Is Android up and running? What about non-smart phones via text alerts?) and hope you’re one of the groups that get us there.

    Cheers,
    Aaron

  2. Mick says:

    Hi Aaron,

    Iteration is awesome!

    1) You could be right, and I would personally be excited if that were the case. To take the Foursquare example (and I think the Foursquare guys are really smart btw), it seems to me that local businesses have already found that Groupon is a much better way to bring volume through the door, based purely on revenue streams. Interest seems to be better correlated to purchasing than locality. But I agree the capability is there.

    2) Yes, the potential for misuse is there, all we can do is try to restrict it as much as possible.

    Re: Android (or other platforms). Yes, we’ll be building on them. Android makes a certain degree of sense as there are now many fairly cheap Android smart phones out there that parents appear likely to give to young teenagers as their first phone.

    A lot of what makes us different is the algorithm on the server – being able to dynamically change how long the GPS chip is turned on for depending on where the phone is and where it’s likely to be going. And that can be applied across all phone models.

    We also wanted to build something really good for one OS first, rather than just ok versions on multiple platforms. Once we have the pricing and feature set settled, scaling horizontally is absolutely next on the agenda.

    Re: non-smart phones via text alerts. Yes this is something we could do. We also have users asking us about email alerts. As a 2-person startup, we have to be focused, but if that turns out to be a common use case, we can roll things out extremely quickly.

    Finally, thanks for the kind words and the really thorough analysis and response on our blog. I absolutely agree that the future in geo-tracking looks bright, and we’ll be doing everything we can to bring that future closer.

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