I have long believed that location-based mobile social networking is central to how technology will connect us. The advent of next generation phones including the iPhone combined with people’s familiarity and engagement with social networks means that the space is – finally – ready to take off. Here is a very quick review of the past, present, and future of the space.
The original location-based social networking application was proximity dating, which I wrote about in chapter 2 of my book Living Networks in 2002, in describing some of the many ways that networks bring people together:
In mobile-mad Japan, “proximity dating” has had a big success. As in Internet dating, you complete a profile of both yourself and your desired partner. Instead of suggesting people to exchange e-mails with, the service rings you on your cell phone to let you know that someone with a matching profile is within a few hundred yards of you, and allows you to arrange to meet them. Since high bandwidth mobile technology is now available in Japan, the system can also allow you to see each other on your mobile videophone before you meet.
[Download Chapter 2 of Living Networks]
People were very interested in the idea, and I got a lot of media coverage at the time for my thoughts on where this was going. There were a variety of technologies and platforms available for location-based social networking in the early days, however the major constraint was that very few phones had GPS, so the location of each phone had to be determined by cell tower triangulation, giving an accuracy often not better than one kilometre. One early example of location-based social networking at the time was from Swisscom, in which people could engage in anonymous chat, with indicators of both the numbers of degrees of separation from their counterpart in their phone books, and the approximate distance between them (from low to high).