A Screen Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Social mapping technology grows up a bit.

Early mobile-networking services like Dodgeball were better in theory than in practice. Knowing when your friends were in the neighborhood: great! Enduring a constant deluge of text messages: not so great. But new startups streamline the idea, pinpointing your friends on a graphical interface and letting you add notes for your personal in-crowd to read. Here's the latest.

Loopt

Created by three Stanford undergrads in 2005; a partnership with Sprint/Nextel's prepaid Boost network vaulted them into the big-time. A custom map interface lets users see where their friends are, even inside buildings, and send location coordinates.

The Buzz: The $3-a-month service has more than 100,000 subscribers, giving it the critical-mass edge so far. Loopt plans to roll out partnerships with other carriers within months.

The Bite: For now, Loopt is available only on the Boost network, leaving millions out of the proverbial loop.

Buddy Beacon

Part of a combo platter of voice, data, and location services from mobile carrier Helio, Buddy Beacon lets users broadcast their location to friends via Google Maps.

The Buzz: A partnership with MySpace gives it instant entrée to the LOL set. All-inclusive plans may help stave off the parental headache of TXT-induced bill shock.

The Bite: Helio is a proprietary network, so those who don't have it can't play. And its cost—$225 for the handset, and monthly voice/data plans starting at $65—doesn't exactly suit MySpace travelers.

Mologogo

Mologogo's founders met online and then for real after their GPS software revealed they lived in the same town. Their software, which also uses Google Maps, is currently ad free.

The Buzz: The software download costs nothing, or you can buy a preloaded handset for $99. Mologogo is looking into branding partnerships to keep the service free.

The Bite: The Java-based program is only compatible with Nextel handsets and PC-enabled smartphones with GPS. Also, the DIY challenge of downloading might scare off less technologically adept networkers.

Socialight

Although Socialight launched online in 2005, its new mobile Web application debuted only at the end of last year. This free program lets you look up friends as well as places to eat, drink, and shop (with user-submitted reviews).

The Buzz: It's accessible via desktop computer as well as handsets, plus there's a TXT version for users with older cell phones. Searchable reviews make it a sort of free-form Zagat guide.

The Bite: With content—and users—centered mostly in New York and London, heartland technophiles are out of luck for the time being.

Data Dump


GPS service subscribers in 2006, worldwide: 12 million
Estimated number by 2011: 315 million

Source: ABI Research

 

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