Looking for friends to do something with this summer? Use these location-based services to find out where all your friends are.
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Social networking is fun. You can communicate with friends. You can share experiences with them. And you can even plan get-togethers. But finding where they are isn't possible with most social networks. You'll need to keep sending messages back and forth to figure out where to meet up.
With the help of location-based social networks, you won't have that problem any longer. All of the following services will allow you to see where friends are at all times. The guessing game is over.
Location-based social networks
Brightkite Brightkite is a great location-based service. After you download the free app onto your mobile phone, you can start finding friends.
When you become friends with someone, you can see their location as they travel away from home. You can also find folks who are in close proximity to you to get to know them a little better. Brightkite even lets you take pictures. That picture will then be geo-tagged, so your friends can see where it was taken. Brightkite is a really nice location-based social network. And since it works on any mobile phone, the Web, and an app is available for free in the Apple App Store, it's definitely worth trying out.
Loopt Loopt is designed specifically for GPS-enabled mobile phones. When you sign up, you need to input your mobile phone number. From there, Loopt will determine your location. You can then share your location with those who request to see where you are. You can even take pictures with your mobile phone and geo-tag them.
If you don't want someone to know where you are, Loopt lets you block access to your location. It's a great privacy feature. Loopt works with practically any mobile phone. It also has an app available for the iPhone. Both versions are free.
Map My Tracks Map My Tracks is designed specifically for the person who wants to go outdoors. The service is installed on your mobile phone after you text message Map My Tracks. It then interacts with your phone's GPS to display a map to make it just a little easier for you to determine where you are. As long as you allow access, your friends can find you as you travel.
Map My Tracks works with several devices, including most BlackBerry devices and a host of Nokia handhelds. It's not available for the iPhone. If you want to try Map My Tracks, you'll need to download it from the company's Web site.
Moximity Moximity brings location-based functionality to your social networks.
After you sign up for Moximity, you're asked to input your Twitter and Facebook usernames. From there, the free application you download onto your iPhone will help you find areas of interest around your location. Once you decide you want to go somewhere, you can send your location and destination to your social network friends by using the "set as your location" feature in the app. All your Twitter and Facebook friends will automatically know where you are and how to find you.
But before you run out and start using Moximity, know that the service is only available in Austin, Texas. The company has promised that more cities will be made available soon, but no timetable has been set. So, consider it an option in the future if you don't live in Austin. Even with limited availability, it's a neat idea.
Plazes Plazes reminds me of Twitter with a location-based element.
Once you sign up for the site, you'll be asked to input where you are (a city or specific location is fine). If the service can't find that location, you can add it to the database. From there, you'll add what time you'll be in that spot and what you're doing there. It can then be added to your public timeline for all your friends to see. If you'd like, you can also keep it private, so only specific people know where you are. Plazes limits what you can say, but still allows you to be descriptive about your location and what you're up to. It's a neat service. With more users, it could be even better.
Rummble Rummble is designed to help you find places of interest around you while you're on-the-go. If you want to share some of that information with friends, the app also allows you to let them know where you are and share it.
Rummble works both online and on your mobile phone. Based on your location, it will help you find places around you. You can even set the app to warn friends when you'll be in their area. When you get close to them, they will receive an alert telling them of your presence. Since Rummble works both ways, you can also see where friends are who decide to share their location. It's available on a variety of phones via its mobile site, but you can also use the company's free iPhone app.
Sniff Sniff is much different from more popular services, like Loopt. Instead of providing you with an app to interact with, Sniff asks that you send it a text message. From there, you can sign up for the service on its mobile Web site.
To get it to work, Sniff asks that you text "invite" plus your friend's number to ask for permission to see their location. If they accept by replying to the text, you can find your friend's locations by simply text messaging "sniff" plus the friend's name. Sniff will only work for Sprint users. Standard text-messaging rates apply, plus 25 cents paid to Sniff for each text message you send through the service. Sniff is also available as a Facebook app.
My top 3
1. Brightkite: Combining social networks with location, Brightkite is second to none.
2. Plazes: A great premise should be celebrated. Plazes is worth trying out.
3. Loopt: Its iPhone app is great--just like its service.