Monday, January 30, 2006

Location, Location, Location

My last posting on Meetro brought up some interesting discussions with Mobilites out there. Some see Meetro as having the disadvantage of lacking users' precise location and feel mobile operators' Location Based Services will overtake players like Meetro. My response is simple. Applications like Meetro fulfill a different need entirely: "I want to know who's close to me. I want to know if this attractive person lives close to me or far away. And if they live close, I might just throw out there the idea of meeting up". It is true Meetro cannot offer precise location information to within feet, but in some sense, why would they want to? Enter the BIG issue when it comes to LBS: Privacy. Privacy is a huge deal for mobile operators as well as for consumers. Mobile operators will probably never allow users to see where everybody else in the network is physically located. Talk about the potential for disaster... Customers would never allow other untrusted users in the network to know their precise location either. Even for trusted users, an LBS user will want the capability of turning on and off that visibility. The services we are going to see from operators will be security intensive. An example would be a friend (or employee, or child) finder app, that lets users set security rules for other users – i.e., only my friend should be able to see my location, but only when I want them to).

This brings me to the big news of the month: Verizon Wireless launched their first LBS application, VZNavigator . VZNavigator finds your precise location and that of such destinations as restaurants, airports, specific addresses etc. and provides you with turn-by-turn directions. To use VZNavigator you will need a Motorola V325. Once you buy the phone you can use the service for $9.99/month or $2.99/day.

This is a pretty big deal for Mobilites. While mobile operators are likely to launch with a few more branded applications I would be willing to bet they are probably not going to get into the Web 2.0 groove. Let's just face it, while NTTDoCoMo fully exploited data to provide an Internet like experience on mobile devices, U.S. carriers completely missed the boat. Chances are they will miss this one as well. This leaves open a great opportunity (and in my opinion, obligation) for developers to leverage LBS and take Mobile 2.0 to the next level. The two big LBS platform providers Wave Market and Auto Desk claim to have developer programs. This playing field should get very exciting, very soon. So to get a closer look at Auto Desk don't miss the Bay Area's up coming , Mobile Monday.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Meet Meetro

In Silicon Valley it’s really not that often that one runs into a start up with a truly disruptive idea. If you live here and are like me, you have fallen into the horrible habit when listening to people’s new idea for a business of instinctually tearing to pieces. Chances are you’ve already heard it before or know someone who already failed miserably while trying to do the same.

I spent my Saturday afternoon at a BBQ hosted by what seemed at first your typical Silicon Valley start-up. If you have lived here for more than five years and were participant to many of these events during the boom, or to put it easier, if you’ve read Coupland’s Microserfs, you get the picture: a house in close proximity to Sand Hill Rd., its living room the office of all the employees, most of whom are under 30, equipment, cables, paper everywhere – not to mention the bedrooms turned into dorm rooms and a communal bathroom.

When Paul Bragiel, one of the Meetro founders, invited my husband over to Meetro HQ I quickly jumped on the opportunity. I am a wireless applications addict and had not had the chance to try out Meetro b/c they have not launched a Mac OS client, yet. But my true curiosity stemmed more from my skepticism about the media created buzz around Meetro’s ability to offer Location Based Services. Come on! Anyone knows only mobile operators can offer LBS today, right?! Ok, so I am being facetious; most people don’t even understand what LBS is - which is why Google can coin the term and and get away with it! But that’s a topic for another occasion. I also wanted to find out if they weren’t just another (uhm, boring…) Dodgeball. The point is I wanted to check out Meetro so that I could understand how they are doing what they claim to do: “radius and proximity based software.”

Here’s what I was able to dig up (no worries Meetro, there’s a lot more to your secret sauce): Meetro today works by downloading an application to your PC (think of Instant Messenger) that finds a unique identifier that is inside your pc or Wi-Fi router or card, pairs it with your physical address (you have to enter it manually if you are the first user to ever use Meetro through that PC or Hot Spot), and sends it to a Meetro server to be added to a database with other users’ similar information. That way Meetro can tell which users are in the proximity of which users, and thus let them know. Ok, so this is not Location Based Services: 1) it’s not for cell phones (yet) and 2) it does not use all of the complex triangulation algorithms cellular networks and GPS use. But it pretty much does the job! If you are often on the go and use your PC in different locations Meetro will automatically find you and let the Meetro network of users know of your proximity to them. Automatically is the key word here - who wants to be reporting to a system every time he/she arrives at a location via text messaging?

I used the word ‘today’ earlier because Meetro does have the potential to do a LOT more in the future. I really mean a LOT. Of all the applications out there that claim to merge mobility and social networking, Meetro has a leg up. They have a very unique offering that is very easy and fun to use. It is viral and addictive, which can be seen by the big traction they gathered soon after launching in Chicago. And while there are some considerations like barriers to entry, the size of the mobile PC market and oh, yes… revenue models, what Meetro is in the process of building could go into so many directions in terms of building a business and growing the technology.

And so I walked away from my encounter with Meetro with not just an alpha client for Mac OS (which has already become a serious distraction for me), but also with more ideas as to how Meetro can succeed in this new Wireless meets Internet space, instead of a million reasons why they won’t.