You have 600 Facebook friends, 800 Twitter followers and 350
people in your Google+ circles. How do you keep track of so many
people? A growing number of startups is here to help.
Thanks to the geolocation features built into Apple and Android smartphones, services such as Banjo and Glassmap can tell when someone in your networks - or who simply shares your interests - is nearby. Another new company, San Francisco-based Ark, offers a "social search engine" to help you find people no matter what social networks they belong to.
"The whole idea is, anywhere you are in the world, you should be able to understand what's going on around you," said Banjo founder Damien Patton. "You and your friends are fragmented across so many different networks."
Patton found that out the hard way in 2009, when he was on a business trip and realized afterward that he and a former Navy buddy had been passing through the same airport at the same time. He said Banjo, which launched last summer and is based in Redwood City, Calif., can troll feeds from any network - Foursquare check-ins, shared photographs on Instagram, Twitter tweets, etc.
Established social networks such as Facebook and tech giants such as Apple and Google have also added location features to help people track down friends in real time. Still, critics point out women in particular may be uncomfortable with apps that readily tell people where to find them.
Privacy concerns helped scuttle the rapid rise this spring of a geo-social startup called Highlight, which hit the top 25 in Apple's App Store after its March debut but sank after a lukewarm reception at the industry trade show SXSW.
Interestingly, when Facebook acquired a similar startup recently, it chose Glancee, which lets you find other people based on distance, common interests and mutual friends - but doesn't map your precise location, unlike Highlight and Glassmap.
Glassmap co-founder Geoffrey Woo understands the concern and said his product lets users control which friends can see their locations.
"Some of these apps will have problems going mainstream, because chances are slim someone wants random strangers to approach them at a family dinner," he said.
Though Glassmap was the target of a scathing blog post by author Robert Scoble, who felt it doesn't do enough to warn users their activities may be shared with Facebook friends, Woo said traffic has been growing 30 percent a month since its February launch.
Glassmap users seem to like the fact that, because it doesn't constantly update users' locations, the app doesn't drain cell phone battery life, which was another issue to dog Highlight.
Highlight CEO Paul Davison, for the record, said his company has "dedicated significant engineering resources" to lessen the hit on phone batteries.
As for privacy concerns, Davison said Highlight gives users control over how much to share - and, he acknowledged, the company's policies, like geo-social etiquette itself, are "still evolving."
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