Location-Sharing Band-Aid or Useful Mashup?

Have you noticed the many tools to share your location? There's FourSquare and Gowalla, both about a year old. Then there are old-timers like Brightkite. And now, there's one that works with all three (and a couple more). is a mobile application (currently in private beta) from Brightkite that, according to its home page, "takes the hassle out of checking in on multiple services." Most location sharing services take a a coffee shop, restaurant or other place and broadcast the spot to your friends so they can meet up with you. Using the APIs from the popular services, streamlines the process of using multiple services.

On one hand, this is a slick application that is a great example of integrating APIs. Yet some see as a sign that a different types of API--a federated standard--is really needed. We solicited feedback from both critics and users of and have compiled their responses below.

Reid Beels uses four services via

"I've always viewed as a features/time trade off... It bothers me to have to hit multiple services that offer nearly identical feature sets, just because my social graph is fragmented between them."

Dietrich Ayala wants nothing to do with it:

"It's a band-aid app for an ecosystem that requires n accounts to talk to all your friends... Federated approaches, such as the OpenMicroBlogging API, allow users to share data with friends across multiple services without needing to maintain accounts on each separate service."

Josh Babetski has been using since it launched. He thinks it is useful now and will continue to be:

"Much in the way a third-party eco-system grew out of creating Twitter and Facebook integrations, you'll see many players move to support social geo-social services as well. Let's not forget that Twitter is already expanding the ability to add place context and Facebook is moving that way. I think it's reasonable that you'll see a number of 'one-place, multiple check-in' services, like we saw with 'write once, post on many services.' Everyone will have their favorites."

Audrey Eschright warns against blindly consolidating:

"Either individual apps are no more than IM or email service providers, with location being the message we're pushing, or there are distinct differences between the services and what social contexts we use them in, and the idea of consolidated check-in makes as much sense as ccing your mom on an email about last weekend's drunken escapades."

Of course, it's up to individuals which accounts are integrated into, much as you might not choose to have your Twitter feed inside LinkedIn. There's certainly a precedent for's approach. We saw this occur with both bookmarks and status messages, most successfully by (our API profile).

And it makes sense for Brightkite, which has seen the newcomers take over on their turf. Ryan Snyder, founder of former location-sharing service Shizzow, thinks it's a long shot:

"I consider this a bit of a hail mary for Brightkite.  They still have a decent following, but they've lost the interest (and perhaps respect too) of their original geek crowd that they originally attracted, and they needed to get their check-ins back onto their service."

Brightkite founder Martin May told us they built it for their own use first:

"Lots of people told us they have been waiting for a service like this, and that we should release it to a broader audience. So we did."

What do you think of or services like it? How might APIs influence the future of location sharing?

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: TaxiCity: A Game Combining Open Data and Bing Maps


Comments (5)


There is a cool new iPhone app that let's you view your friends' check-ins across all these services in one stream. You can see more here:


You should also check out buzzd is a real-time social city guide that lets you know all of the awesome things going on in your area by streaming information from many different social media sites. They not only use their extensive user-base but they aggregate check-ins from other location based services to provide up to the minute reviews and notifications about the most popular venues in your local area. Just another example of an awesome social application!

There may be some sour grapes in Ryan Snyder's remarks, but I have to agree that seems likea Hail Mary move. Brightkite's so desperate to slow the attrition of their users to new services that they've created a website that says "No, you can still use us, too!"'s doomed to be the of geolocation -- an obscure service that some social network addicts think is the greatest thing the world, but mainstream users never need. (And I'd argue that neither service is that great, in that both and are enabling users who broadcast to multiple networks, but don't necessarily interact with other users on those networks. It's a shallower form of social networking.)

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