Ok, so I’m just a little bit excited to go and see Roger Waters on Wednesday. So sue me.
Brightkite is one of the Techstars companies from 2007. They raised just north of $1M after Techstars, and have since been camped out in their downtown Denver offices quietly extending on their vision from last summer. Brightkite is a location-based social network that connects people around common places.
“We don’t intend to replace your existing social networks, because they do a fine job of keeping you connected with your friends already. Most of them also do a fine job of meeting new people based on interests. However, they don’t make it easy to find interesting people around you who you don’t know yet, in real-time. That’s where Brightkite comes in.” – Martin May, Founder and CTO.
Brightkite is still pretty early, and they haven’t been trying to make any noise at all. But in the last few weeks lots of people have been discovering the service, tweeting about it, and using their limited number of invites. Knowing where Martin and Brady are headed with this, I know that what’s there now is just a start. Here’s how Brightkite works, so far.
First you add the usual friendship relationships. What’s unique though is that Brightkite has some nice options that allow you to add the friend as either fully “trusted” or not. Trusted friends can see your exact location, whereas normal friends will see only an approximate location. You can also set an overall privacy mode which you can use to keep everyone on the service from knowing your location (this should probably be the default but currently isn’t).
Notice in the image above (click it to enlarge) that Ari’s exact address is shown to me. This is because he fully trusts me (but maybe not you, so I took out the numeric address). You can see other users who are just showing me their approximate location in the image above. It’s clear that even early on, Brightkite is taking privacy seriously.
You can then define some placemarks and “check in” at a place any time you’re there via SMS or via the web site. Even when you’re not at a placemark, you can check in using the address or common place names. You can even set things up so that when you check in, your location is pushed out to Twitter automatically. Once checked in, you can easily publish photos or messages. Depending on a well-implemented set of preferences that you select from, Brightkite then pushes this information to others who are nearby using mobile or email notifications. In effect, it creates a stream of stuff happening near you, both within your set of friends and across the service in general. You can monitor this stream in a bunch of different ways, again, based on your preferences. Here’s a map view on the web site of what some of my friends are up to (click to enlarge).
Brightkite includes a simple SMS shorthand which allows to check in via a short code, send messages to those around you, and more. Rumor has it that the iPhone app is just around the corner as well.
My personal opinion on services like this is that once they can automatically detect where I am, they’ll be super useful. For me, taking the time to check in someplace is just too much work for a chance of serendipity. With the new features coming in the iPhone, Android, and the like auto-sensing of location seems more a matter of when than if at this point. It will be interesting to watch as the holy grail of mobile applications (ubiquitous location data) may finally be near. Services like Brightkite which take privacy seriously and which are beautiful while still being simple are well positioned to make waves in this space.
Even the internet famous are hanging out here and there on Brightkite. Martin has invited 20 Colorado Startups readers to try the service. If you’d like to try it out, just leave a comment and I’ll send you an invitation. (UPDATE: These invites are all gone). Currently the service is in a closed beta with a limited number of invites going out.