Location-based social networking has yet to yield a number of break-out hits despite booming smartphone sales. Redmond, Washington-based Glympse is trying to change that by sidestepping the social networking part entirely and letting users share their locations in short bursts through e-mail.
A Glympse is like sending a postcard with your real-time location attached. You load the application on your phone, pick a recipient, choose the amount of time you want to share your location and hit send. People on the receiving end don’t have to sign up for the service or “friend” you on a social network. They go to the URL you share and see your location for a predetermined amount of time. You can broadcast your location for 30 minutes or several hours. (See examples of people sharing Glympses here.)
Founder and former Microsoft casual games director Bryan Trussel said mobile social networking services like Google Latitude, Loopt and Brightkite will have a hard time gaining traction because people don’t want to broadcast their locations 100 percent of the time and don’t want overwhelming privacy settings. Another location-based service, Foursquare, encourages location-sharing by turning it into a game, but it isn’t designed for situations like arranging meetings. Requiring “friend” requests also creates a double hurdle that slows adoption until an application reaches critical mass.
“People don’t really live their lives that way,” Trussel said. “Location-based services should be much more dynamic and ad-hoc.”
Sometimes people might want to share their location temporarily with strangers to set up meetings or let acquaintances know they’re on their way to dinner. Glympse is designed for both of these scenarios. It also works for parents, who want to check in with their children from time-to-time.
Glympse is in a public beta test on the Android-supporting T-Mobile G1 phone and is in private beta for the iPhone and Blackberry. Like Latitude and other non-native apps on the iPhone, Glympse doesn’t work in the background. That means you have to have the app open to update your location continuously. Trussel says it isn’t as big a problem for his product as it is for Latitude, because Glympse is meant for very quick bursts of usage.
Trussel said two revenue models could work with Glympse. The company could build a “freemium” model, giving away the basic product for free while charging for premium services like video- or photo-sharing. If the infrastructure exists in the future, Glympse could also earn revenue off location-sensitive advertising. The company raised angel funding in October.