Tipsheet

Mobile Social Networks: Reach Out and GPS Someone

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It pays to know who your friends are. But sometimes, it matters even more where they are, particularly if it's one of those Friday nights when your group is spread from Georgetown to U Street. Fortunately, a handful of services, part of the nascent but growing trend of mobile social networking, use the GPS chip in your phone to locate members of your scattered tribe in real time, to within a few yards.

True, a few text messages could accomplish the same thing, but that would lack the coolness factor of flipping open your cellphone to reveal a map with dots representing people. In addition, these services offer user profiles, messaging and other features once constrained to your desktop.

If the whole thing seems to come with a touch of Big Brother, it's to a far more benign end -- like helping you find five or so compatriots for that late showing of "American Gangster."

-- Nick Kolakowski

Helio's Buddy Beacon

Available on: Helio devices.

Web site: http://www.helio.com.

How it works: Connect with up to 25 other Helio-owning buddies with the devices' built-in Buddy Beacon feature, which uses satellite and cellphone triangulation to display everyone as cute stick figures on a map (it's accurate to within a few feet). A cloaking feature allows you to go off the grid if you want to stew in the Black Cat in peace. Locations update with a single keystroke.

Nifty side feature: Send a text message asking friends to set their devices to be Buddy Beaconed.

Cost: Free if you own a Helio phone. A Helio Ocean will set you back more than $199 (although the basic Heat phone can be free, depending on your plan). An all-in membership with unlimited Web browsing (and a set number of daytime calling minutes) can cost more than $65 a month.

Loopt

Available on: Sprint Nextel and Boost Mobile devices.

Web site: http://www.loopt.com.

How it works: You sign up on the Web site, and this service uses GPS and cellphone triangulation to pinpoint you and your friends as dots on a map. Alerts pop up on your phone whenever someone's near. Loopt allows you to create and edit a personal profile -- helpful if, say, you want to find only buddies who are into rock climbing. Locations update with a single keystroke, although users can block their whereabouts at any time.

Nifty side feature: Send messages and location updates to anyone in your phone's address book or AIM buddy list.

Cost:30-day free trial, then $2.99 per month.

Mologogo

Available on : Some Sprint Nextel and Boost Mobile devices, as well as Windows Mobile phones.

Web site: http://www.mologogo.com.

How it works: Mologogo not only lets its users sign up online and track one another via phone, but also allows them to post their data to their own Web sites, so those stuck at home can track their friends' bar crawl through Adams Morgan. The newest version allows you to update your location every 10 seconds, though you can turn it off if you don't want to be found. More dedicated users have found some unusual ways to use the service: Co-founder Jason Uechi reports that some have installed Mologogo-equipped phones in their cars to keep track of them, "like a DIY LoJack."

Nifty side feature: Check weather and traffic reports in real time.

Cost: Free.


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