Pivot towards a cliff: Brightkite (Checkins), RIP

Removing the Brightkite app from my iPhone.

Letting go: removing the Brightkite app from my iPhone.

Today marks the end of Brightkite’s location-based social network, as the company repositions itself firmly in the “group texting” camp. It was my first introduction to location-based social networking, and I’m going to miss it. Brightkite was the only location-based social network that really nailed privacy controls: you could set privacy per-post, per-checkin, be vague to some users but not others, and more. It amazes me that none of its surviving competitors have similar privacy controls today. Placestreams were a really useful feature, featuring notes and photos of people who have left them behind, telling a story about a location. The market leader, Foursquare, still does not yet support attaching pictures to a place. What’s with that?

Update, 12/20/2010: Foursquare will now support photos on checkins and tips.

Brightkite’s service is another example of forward thinking in location-based networking. By doing the work to match disparate locations between several different services in the database, it provided for an accurate checkin across many services. Gowalla recently released a crossposting feature in its latest client; as I discovered the other night, though, it doesn’t seem go to the trouble of using an already-created Foursquare venue to check in. Rather, it will create a temporary place and check you in there. Angling for a mayorship to score a discount? Avoid the Gowalla app. will help you get there, though. (It, too, is waving in the winds at the moment, but hopefully will be picked up for active development at some point.)

In the end, though, a social network is only as good as the number of friends you have on it. (If technical considerations were how social networks won the race, Pownce would have bought Twitter out.) I also think that Brightkite may have been ahead of its time; Foursquare made the placestream concept easier to grok (“venue” is, indeed, a more accessible term) and gave users a reason to check in other than for the sake of checking in.

Brightkite as a company will live on as a group text company — just like PingChat, Kik, and many, many other players. I wish them the best of luck, but I have no need for another group text app right now — as the screenshot above illustrates.


Foursquare hits Charleston

Joe Riley may no longer have a mayoral stranglehold in Charleston, as Foursquare, the location-based social game, has expanded to the entire world after a limited beta in certain cities.

Location-based social networking isn’t a terribly new concept anymore, but it hasn’t really caught on in the mainstream. I’ve been using Brightkite for location-based networking since 2008 or so, and it’s proven to be a very useful tool. However, I’ve heard on more than one occasion that it’s a “stalker tool” — and, yes, if used without discretion, it could have some unintended consequences — but with careful usage, it can be a very powerful tool. However, Foursquare’s competitive aspect makes the idea of giving away location on the Internet a little bit more palatable to the general public. It also helps that Foursquare focuses on social venues without putting on undue pressure to check in at work, at home, and the like. Its business partnerships add a lot of value for users, businesses, and Foursquare itself. The to-do list feature, which lets you assign things to do at specific venues and check them off for points, is a cool way to find things to do at a new place.

As a utility, though, I think Foursquare falls a little short. For example, it doesn’t let you attach pictures to a place, which is something that Brightkite does extremely well. It also doesn’t make much sense to use Foursquare in a newsgathering situation (which, admittedly, most people won’t do). A case in point: I’m working on a project right now to create a mobile storm lab to augment my weather data-gathering and reporting efforts. I plan on using a special Charleston Weather Brightkite account to track and broadcast my movements. And despite its lack of popularity compared to Foursquare, Brightkite wins here hands down for a few reasons:

  • The ability to check in at a relative location, such as an intersection, rather than a solid venue;
  • Brightkite’s aforementioned ability to associate and geotag photos with a location, and then post those photos to Flickr and Twitter;
  • The game feature seems extraneous for the intended use — after all, if my mobile storm lab should check in at a place enough to become mayor of it, the place sounds just a tad uninsurable, doesn’t it?

Time will tell to see if Foursquare adds these features, but Brightkite’s focus seems to be on pushing the location-based envelope, as its foray into augmented reality advertising shows. That’s why Brightkite will continue to be the location-based social network of choice for this geek.

I’ve heard a lot about how Foursquare going global means Brightkite’s death knell, but I don’t agree at all. Brightkite’s purpose is different than Foursquare’s and I don’t see why they can’t coexist. I look forward to using both for different things — Foursquare for the rare occasion I try to be a socialite, and Brightkite for other applications that require location but not necessarily the competitive aspect. (I’d like Gowalla, too, but they’re iPhone and Android only — not even their mobile site works on a BlackBerry, and there doesn’t seem to be any alternative method to operate the service.)

Want to give all this a shot? Compete with me on Foursquare, or friend me on Brightkite to see pictures and notes about the places I end up.

In Brief Technology

Twitter geolocation ‘imminent’; I’ll stick with Brightkite

Smarterware says geocoded tweets are imminent. Twitter geolocation is a win for newsgathering situations where it may be more expedient to tick off a “share my location” box than it is to check in on Brightkite and start posting notes. They’re doing a couple things weird here, though: scrubbing the data after 14 days (apparently to elude subpoena) and only giving the user control insomuch that they can specify whether location data is embedded in the tweet (though I’m sure app developers will be able to do more to the data before it’s posted). I like this for quick and dirty situations, but the lack of persistence of the geocoded data bothers me a bit. I still prefer the Brightkite approach to places as objects and the association of notes and pictures to those places. I also prefer Brightkite’s privacy controls, as you can still give your location to just a certain subset of people. It will be interesting to see how Brightkite’s data is enhanced by geocoded tweets — Brightkite could effectively hook into Twitter streams and import geocoded tweets into their placestreams (if the user so wishes, of course). I’ll be interested to see how app developers flesh this out. (Thanks to Mandi Engram at Social Media Club Columbia for pointing out this article!)

In Brief Technology

The city of North Charleston on Brightkite

At first glance, a city joining Brightkite seems a little strange — where would a city check in if it doesn’t move? However, North Charleston’s Brightkite account could be brilliant. It could be used to check in at events at their exact locations, post pictures of those events, and create quite a marketing stream for the city. Right now it’s just notes being posted at City Hall, but I could see this being much, much more. This is the first municipal usage of Brightkite I’ve seen; I’ll be interested to find more. (You can also find North Charleston on Twitter.)


Brightkite: The New Marketing Frontier

Tonight a few of the Lowcountry bloggers got together at Coco’s Cafe in Mt. Pleasant for an event set up by Lyn Mettler to kind of introduce the restaurant to the bloggers and generate some buzz. The restaurant was fantastic; I enjoyed the food a great deal (including the salmon — and I’m historically not a seafood guy), and the place was really charming and enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see it, too. Between Ian and myself, we took many pictures and posted them on Brightkite, a location-based social network. At first glance, Brightkite screams “stalker tool,” and I can see why it’s taken that way — after all, the premise of the site is that you post your exact location (there are privacy tools available so you can determine who can see your most detailed position). However, used in a way that it was used tonight, it also is the ultimate marketing tool.

The beauty of Brightkite is that you can take pictures and write notes and then associate them with a location — effectively, geotagging. Take a look at the Brightkite page for Coco’s. You’ll see several photos of Coco’s there. See, I can tell you all about the ambiance of the restaurant and the food and stuff, but as they say, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Plus, since the pictures are associated with the entry for Coco’s in Brightkite, anybody else that checks in there or looks into it even before going there can see what it’s like. The icing on the cake: Since my Brightkite photos and notes are crossposted to Twitter, people who follow me can see the photos as they’re posted, complete with the location information. That’s pretty cool. Additionally, if people elect to post their location updates (called checkins in Brightkite lingo) to Twitter with some level of detail, that’s instant advertising. There are many, many other social aspects to Brightkite that escape the scope of this post, too.

Are you using Brightkite? Add me — maybe we can check in at Coco’s.