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Mapping start-up Socialight opens API

The New York-based company hopes that developers will use its opened-up code to install new apps on location-aware devices like iPhones and GPS navigators.

For something so focused on navigation and geography, it's a bit ironic that location-based social networks have to work their way through such a jungle: carrier partnerships, handset compatibility, creepy privacy concerns, and what-have-you. But one small New York start-up, Socialight, says it's found a route: developers, developers, developers.

Socialight, which focuses on user-created city maps and whose founders insist that location-based mobile services can have functions other than stalking your friends, announced Wednesday that it has opened its application program interface (API). This will let developers mesh Socialight into applications for mobile platforms like Apple's iPhone, Google's Android software, and other devices and operating systems equipped with location-aware technology like GPS and cell tower triangulation. The start-up is also open-sourcing its mobile Java application along with the API.

"There are other APIs out there for tracking where your friends and family are," co-founder Dan Melinger said in a statement Wednesday. "But no one we know of has released an API that lets you publish, manage, and distribute local content, media, and information. This is far more useful and we are excited to see what develops."

For Socialight, this means convenience: an API can lead to more reach with fewer formal partnerships. At launch, Socialight has announced that Dash Navigation is using its API to send Socialight maps to its in-car GPS devices.

"We're making it much simpler to create your own apps for location-aware devices like the iPhone," Melinger told CNET "We expect a lot of developers to design apps that show content about the places around you--whether its a vintage-eyewear-shop-finder for the iPhone or something for your in-car GPS that helps track down the Shochu bars of L.A."

For the industry, still dealing with how to figure out location-based networking and mobile social networks, and the potential snafus involved with those, Socialight is something to watch: APIs and developer platforms were what made PC-based social networks really skyrocket. This could be an indicator of whether the same will hold true for the mobile space.