If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably already know that I had the opportunity to chat with Martin May, Co-Founder of Brightkite, this afternoon. In fact, if you follow me closely, then you not only know that my introduction to Brightkite was through Nate Ritter’s tweet & subsequent invite to join Brightkite, but you also know that I’ve been updating Twitter with my location through Brightkite for the past 24 hours. And if you were paying attention to my “bites” (what I’m terming my Brightkite updates), then you know exactly when and where the phone interview took place. Follow?
Everything I just wrote is so incredibly important and proves why you should be paying attention to Twitter too, but that’s neither here nor there.
Let’s talk about Brightkite, a location-based social networking site that is posed to take over the world, or at least update you as to where the world is. According to their site, Brightkite, “enables people to take their online profiles with them into the real-world and make real-world friends. Users can see where their friends are and what they’re up to all while maintaining comprehensive degrees of privacy to non-friends. Depending on a user’s privacy setting they can also be open to meeting others nearby.”
As a member of Brightkite, I can accomplish three specific tasks associated with my locations. I can “check-in” by sending Brightkite my location via SMS to the shortcode 80289, or I can enter my location directly on the website. I can add a message, called a “post,” and add photos as well. All of my submissions can be through SMS, email, or via the web interface. The abbreviated list of commands (similar to Twitter commands) can be seen here. All of the information I’m submitting to Brightkite is then made available to the public, to my friends, and to my trusted friends, with the message filtered based on the privacy settings that I have established. The beauty is in the privacy settings. Brightkite pretty much lets me remain as anonymous as I’d like to be. So if I only want my trusted friends to know my exact location, then I can choose to show my friends and the public limited information about my location, ie. just city/state.
With Brightkite the power of information and connection is limitless. I lied earlier — the real beauty is in using the service to get updates via SMS or email about the whereabouts of friends or strangers in my area. I see this serving a very critical need for us, San Diegans, who are still very fragmented. We could potentially be in the same coffee house downtown at the exact same time and never know it. If we’re both using Brightkite, however, and you update your location, I’ll receive a text message letting me know that you’re in my area (or at the same location). I can also view the history of all check-ins at a particular location, including photos and posts about that place.
For the past 5 months, Brightkite had been in a top secret private beta period, but just recently (think days) they opened the site up to a select group of people. According to May, they’re really trying to keep the number of members to a minimum so that they can iron out the remaining bugs before a full scale launch in the summer. If you want to sign-up you’ll either need to add your name to the growing list of wannabe members, request an invite from an existing member, or contact me directly because I’ve got 30 invites to give away. If you want an invite you’ll need to send an email to contact [at] startupsd [dot] net with your email address. I’ll give the invites away to the first thirty requesters in San Diego, so you better find a way to prove you live here.
More About Brightkite
The Brightkite Founders found their way through a few different ideas before landing on location-based networking. In fact, they were initially funded by TechStars (they just closed a Series A round of financing for about $1 million) for a completely different idea. After toying with the notion of a service that supported multi-channel notifications via RSS, SMS, and email in summer of 2007, they ultimately determined that they wanted to expand upon Yahoo!’s fire eagle and Dodgeball by supporting a more complete way for people to connect with their social networks in real offline ways.
If you’re wondering about the name, well don’t; they purposely wanted to choose an abstract name that didn’t mean much. If you ask, however, May might tell you a cleverly concocted story that Brightkite plays off both “bright” and “kite,” essentially making the site a metaphor for a really bright kite that flies high enough so that every can see it. Cute.
Brightkite is definitely still working out the kinks. Right now there’s no easy way to search for friends, and occasionally your photo upload might get delayed (they’re currently running off of one server), but Brightkite wants the feedback. They’re currently using Get Satisfaction to manage feedback, they’re pretty quick to respond to replies to their Twitter account, and they accept feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So Far I’m Digging…
The commands are pretty cool and powerful. My favorite is the ? + business name command to either find a location near me, or select the location that I’m at to update my whereabouts. For example, today I wanted to update that I was at Pannikin on Via De La Valle, but I didn’t want to bother with finding the address or texting the location to Brightkite. I simply texted “? Pannikin” to 80289 and received a text back with 3 Pannikin locations near my last check-in, and an option to see more locations. To check-in, all I had to do was text the number of the location that I was at. Easy!
To Watch or Not
According to May the current site offerings are a small percentage of what is to come in the future. They’re currently building an iPhone app that should be out sometime in the next few weeks, they’re working on some pretty awesome widgets (one widget allows you to grab the code for all the activity of a particular location and embed that on your site), their API is in the works, GPS and cell phone triangulation support is coming soon, and they’re exploring application development for other mobile phones including Google’s Android.
Brightkite also has a pretty well defined revenue model that includes plans for location-based advertising and a business version of web-analytics for the real world. With the latter, Brightkite would allow a customer the ability to purchase business analytics reports based on the plethora of data that the location-based model will surely bring. If you’re a company like Starbucks, for example, you might want to know what the site members, who have checked-in to Brightkite, are saying and posting about you. You might also want to know what they’re saying about the other competitor coffee shops in the area, or compare the frequency of visits to your store against the visits to your competitor.