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.

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