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Location Sharing In a World of Many Options and Apps

I play with a lot of location products. The more of them I use, the more I get to understand how I think about sharing my own location with people I know and how those products fit into my life. As I’ve used more products, I’ve started to think about the dimensions along which I can classify products and their use cases. I’ve been really trying to wrap my head around the use case for products like Glympse and Twist, which allow me to let people know that I am en route and when I should arrive. It has taken me awhile to understand how they fit into my life and how and where they are valuable.

Before delving into Twist and Glympse, just a quick sense for how I think about the many location products I use. I can coarsely classify them along two core dimensions:

  • Persistent vs. Transient Relationships – For all location sharing applications, I try to think about whether I use the product to share my location with people with whom I have a persistent or a transient relationship.
  • Real-Time Sharing vs. Logging Location – Most of these products talk about location “sharing” but I tend to use some of them more as a log (where I’ve been over a long period of time) as opposed to sharing (this is where I am right now). To me, the difference is that the value of a location share decays quickly in environments where my past locations are not visible (Highlight) versus those where people can browse where I’ve been (foursquare and Facebook).

I can write a pretty short sentence about most products I use and how I use them based on the framework above:

  • I use foursquare (and Path) to share my current location frequently with a smallish group of people with whom I have persistent relationships. I also use it as a log over time.
  • I use Highlight to share my recent location with a fairly large group of friends and friends-of-friends with whom I have both transient and persistent relationships.
  • I use Facebook to share my current location with a large group of people with whom I have persistent relationships for those rare location shares that I think are noteworthy or of interest to many people.
  • I use Twitter to share my current location with a large group of people with whom I have transient or loose relationships for those rare location shares that I think are noteworthy or of interest to many people.

With those four services, I felt like most of my social needs for location sharing were met. When I was first introduced to Twist and Glympse, I was having a hard time finding a gap in the current suite of products I use. I’ve been using both for about a month or two and I can finally articulate how they work for me:

I use Twist to share my current (and future) location with people with whom I have both persistent and transient relationships.

I mostly use Twist these days, but I can say that it does things that I can’t easily do with any of the other options. It’s a pretty useful way to let people know when I’m en route and to have them do the same.

The biggest problem I have with Twist is that most people to whom I’ve sent a Twist have never received one before. So they are discovering the app for the first time and that can be a bit socially awkward. If I knew that more people were using Twist, I’d be more inclined to send them. I’ve gotten a fair number of “what is this?” messages from people – it’s pretty easy to explain after the fact.

Overall, even in what I think of as a crowded category, I still find products that fill unoccupied niches. I like Twist and Glympse and I think there’s a need for these products. I think the biggest risk they face is that the big calendar applications or Google Now / Siri offer this as native functionality.

I’m curious as to how you use location-sharing apps. Feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message on Twitter @chudson.