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Pakistani App Developer Challenges Facebook Places

Face2Face In the U.S., Facebook launched Places yesterday, and everyone started speaking their truths: this is the end of Gowalla and Foursquare, the tipping point of location-based services, the end of privacy. In the meantime, across the world in Pakistan, the location of one of the worst natural disasters in human history, Shakir Husain has launched Face2Face, another location-based iPhone app.

Two reasons I think this is worth talking about: first, because Shakir has been a friend for ten years, since he lived in the U.S. and before he decided to bring his family back to Pakistan to start a tech company, and second, because my trips to Asia with Geeks on a Plane this spring taught me that not everyone around the world prefers apps from Silicon Valley. They are Facebook and Twitter-like products in China that have millions of users. And there are quite a few people in India and Pakistan and the surrounding area. In the Pakistan flooding alone, 20 million people are homeless, and that's in rural areas. The cities have even more people of course. India has a population of a billion. There's life outside the U.S., Other countries can be large markets.

Now, what's the difference between Face2Face, which I have been using and really like, and other apps? Once again, two things: completeness and localization. Here's a quote from an email Shakir sent me when I pushed back on his chances after trying the app myself and listening to Silicon Valley snark:

Aggregation is one piece ... but proximity the central one. We recommend that folks download it in clusters so they can interact with friends. There's a very neat chat feature which le's you chat across platforms. Your aggregated friends from various networks are on Face2Face. There's a POI (places of interest) piece which will be coming within the month along with a feature which lets you "drop" pictures on a location and your friends are alerted when you are in proximity.

The real use case is this. Say you're at the airport. chances are that that there's a friend of yours there at the same time but you have no way of knowing. Using the app they pop up ONLY if they're at the airport. I don't care where my friends are "checking in" if they're in NY because I live in Karachi and I'm more interested in relevant POI's and friends near my physical location. I also don't want to be pinpointed because I value my privacy.

So far we have an aggressive monetization strategy and are working with a bank in the U.S. and one in Pakistan. We have also closed a deal with a telco which gives us access in 13 countries.

Don't make the mistake of ruling out companies that don't start in Silicon Valley. What if they turned out to be the next Facebook?

The Floods:

On the subject of the Pakistan floods, Shakir tells me they have hit the rural areas very hard: rural Pakistan has taken a hammering. the flood has affected more people than Katrina, the tsunami, and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake combined. 20 million affected. 4 million homeless, and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure and crops wiped out. Here's a very solid piece by an internationally known writer in the NYT.

Google has stepped up at given 250k USD and has also set up a lot of tech to coordinate relief etc. here's a good link to get info and how to help.

Please help if you can. This money will not go to corrupt government agencies.