Check-in, Multitasking & Geofencing: The Social Web becomes location aware

We have written before about the rise of location based services (lbs), those fascinating and playful apps like Foursquare or Gowalla that let you check-in at specific locations, earn points, badges, become the mayor and maybe even get a discount at the store you are checking in.

The process of checking-in actually has become the default feature for most of today’s location based services. But why did that happen? Well, there are two main reasons:

The need to perform a check-in every time you want to publish your location guarantees you that your whereabouts are not becoming public if you don’t want that. So the check-in works even for those people with higher privacy preferences.

The second reason is a technical one. Until now, the iPhone has been the leading platform for location based apps, simply because iPhone users are the most curious and app avid ones. But until a few days ago, the iPhone didn’t support multitasking, so people were not able to use several applications at the same time. Any app that would have wanted to monitor your location automatically would have had to be activated all the time, blocking other features of your iPhone. That of course was something no one wanted.

That Foursquare in early 2009 came up with the check-in solution was at least in some parts a practical decision to create a good and privacy aware user experience. Most other lbs followed Foursquare after some time and integrated check-in features, even those that existed before Foursquare, like Loopt and Brightkite.

But in the near future, things could change again. Because a few days ago, Apple released its newest version of the iPhone operative system, iOS4, which enables multitasking on iPhone 3GS and the new iPhone 4. That means that location based apps are now able to run in the background, and Loopt was actually one of the first to make use of this by including a “live location” functionality which permanently tracks where you are.

Since Android, the other big platform for app developers, has been multitasking-enabled for a long time, one can conclude that the technical obstacles for lbs are pretty much gone, and that the need of the check-in feature is no longer given from a hardware point of view. What is left are the privacy concerns.

Even though the number of Foursquare users increases by 100.000 a week, lbs still haven’t become a mass phenomenon yet, and the general doubts of many users to publish their location is definitely a crucial reason for that. Automatic background location without check-in would not really help to make potential users get used to the thought of telling everybody where they are.

But there is a technology that could both help to increase users trust into lbs and improve the overall user experience. It’s called Geofencing. A Geofence is a parameter for a specific geographic area. When a smart phone user leaves this area, he/she crosses the Geofence, which can trigger notifications and actions.

Geofencing has seen a small hype recently in the mobile and location world. Location providers like SimpleGeo or Location Labs offer functionality for startups to integrate Geofencing features into their applications, and even Silicon Valley icon Robert Scoble referred to Geofencing when he recently outlined his vision of how location based service will have developed until 2012.

Geofencing in combination with background location could spur a wave of innovation in the lbs field. Imagine for instance an auto check-out feature for services like Foursquare or Gowalla. In the current state, people are shown checked in to locations even though they already left hours ago. With Geofencing, an app could perform an auto check-out when the user crosses the Geofence, without publishing more info about his or her location.

Another example would be that an app could use background monitoring of users locations, unless they are in an area that they have selected the private mode for earlier, like 500 m around the house they are living in. And when they leave home and cross the Geofence, the app could ask if it should switch back to automatic location monitoring or not.

Location based services are still in their early days. The number of services integrated with location features will continue to explode, and after Twitter already has entered the location game, Facebook will follow soon, introducing millions of less experienced web users to the idea of lbs.

The check-in principle is not likely to disappear very soon. But we’ll probably see more combinations of check-in and background location functions with the support of Geofencing. Everything that web and tech enthusiastic users have been doing with the likes of Foursquare, Gowalla the past 12 month is nothing compared to how lbs will embrace us in the near future. The Social Web becomes location aware and won’t look the same anymore.

/Martin Weigert

(Illustration: stock.xchng)

8 use cases for the realtime web

We recently wrote about how the realtime web will change the world. And even though we gave some examples of use cases, there are many more scenarios when people will benefit from the realtime web. So here is a certainly not complete list of use cases for the realtime web. Feel free to add more in the comments section.

1. Breaking news and background for media outlets
If something happens today somewhere on planet earth, it is often reported on Twitter first. Usually much earlier than newspapers and TV stations get to know about it. On the other hand, this information from alleged eye witnesses is not always completely reliable, and in general rather incomplete. So the realtime web is not replacing traditional news media, but it is helping them to gather first-hand information and to get a clue about which story could be worth reporting on.

2. Spreading important information
There might be situations when it could be necessary for governments, companies, organizations or citizens to spread a specific information quickly to a huge group of people (within a specific area or country) – just think about Chernobyl or the tsunami in Southeast Asia. The realtime web is the definite tool to make really important news spread like a virus, and that actually could save lives.

3. Organizing events
With the realtime web, people can organize themselves, arranging flash-mobs, spontaneous parties or demonstrations. Apart from the fun factor involved here, this can be a big advantage for non-democratic countries and those parts of the world without freedom of speech. As we have witnessed during the Iranian protests, the realtime web helped citizens to be a step ahead of the authorities and to steer a huge crowd of people.

4. Collective intelligence
The real time web allows for tapping into the collective brain of millions of users. It’s not uncommon on Twitter or Facebook that people ask their contacts/followers public questions about a good restaurant, mobile phone or museum. Or simply about something where they didn’t find the answer on Google. Thanks to the realtime web, there are always people out there listening, and the required information is never far away.

5. Crime prevention
Sometimes people on Twitter re-tweet announcements from either citizens or the police, searching for witnesses of a specific crime. The realtime web helps to spread this information, since it is not part of most user’s daily routine to check the press releases of their local police station.

Of course, the realtime web can also support getting eye witness reports on crimes that have been committed just a few minutes ago, so that people in the vicinity can both be especially careful but also pay attention to suspects. The final result of this could be a higher risk for criminals to get caught, which might prevent a few from actually committing a crime in the first place.

6. Market transparency
Go to Twingly Microblog search, enter the name of any product, and you get an list of people’s opinion about it. Customers use the tools of the realtime web to say what they think about brands and services. The results might not be sophisticated reviews like on specific websites made for product reviews, but aggregated and analysed based on technologies for sentiment analysis, the results can be very helpful for other’s and at least an additional source of information right before a planned purchase. Under the assumption that there are the right tools for extracting the relevant feedback from the stream of status updates, the realtime web can increase the transparency of markets.

7. Find people based on their locations
You can find users from a specific country or city by searching on a Social Network. But that doesn’t guarantee you that they are there right now. And it doesn’t tell you if they have been at a specific location in their city. With the upcoming combination of realtime elements and location features – that even Twitter is taking seriously now – it will be pretty easy to connect with people being at any given location anywhere in the world. So if you are interested in the tweets of someone who is in South Africa following the World Cup, that wouldn’t be a problem anymore. This will even come handy for journalists looking for somebody at the scene of an event to interview.

8. “Social” media
Everyone is speaking about “Social Media” referring to a million different things and tools, but in this specific context, what we mean is that the realtime web makes existing media and media channels become a social experience. Have you ever been on Twitter when there was a big sports event on TV (hard to avoid these worldcup days), or the final show of a popular music television for example? The realtime web enables viewers to comment with their smartphones or notebooks on what they are watching , to share their opinion with other’s and to make the watching experience become social, even though they are sitting in their homes many miles away from each other. With the soon to be launched Google TV project, this type of social media might become a really widespread phenomenon.

To see this in action, you can use Twingly Live to follow the hashtag or keyword of your favourite show, to get a realtime stream of Twitter updates from other viewers.

/Martin Weigert

Illustration: stock.xchng


Welcome to #TEDxAlmedalen

Picture (CC): Powi

Almedalen Week is a yearly gathering of politicians, organisations and debaters in Visby, Gotland to share and discuss politics among many other things. This year Twingly will be part of it and Björn, Mattias and myself (Anton) will be there to mingle, speak, make sure Twingly Live works smoothly everywhere and to talk to our users. If you’re there, let’s grab a beer or coffee together – tweet us!

And since we think it’s a unique opportunity to get a lot of interesting people together for sharing thoughts, we’ll also co-host TEDxAlmedalen together with Greatness PR. The topic for the event is “How to get followers, fans and friends“. Speakers include Joakim Jardenberg, Brit Stakston, Martina Lind and Elaine Bergqvist. I’ll probably also give a short speech about personal branding.

If you’ll be in Visby Thursday July 8th from 9-12 pm, we would be very happy to meet you at the event. Make sure to confirm on the Facebook event page so that you secure for yourself one of the 100 (attractive!) available seats, or simply send me an email. You can also follow TEDxAlmedalen on Twitter and Facebook.

See you there, or in the Channel!

/Anton

How to use Twitter without reading about football

Some weeks ago we wrote about 8 essential Twitter tools to enhance and improve your Twitter experience. On Twitter, I just stumbled upon a nice little browser app that we didn’t mention back then, but that could be very interesting for all those of you who really can’t get used to the fact that your Twitter timeline is dominated by football enthusiasts these days – which is very likely the case for most of you.

Fortunately, there is a site called GTFO of My Twitter Feed. You probably can guess what the first four letters stand for. This free service let’s you choose one or several keywords, hashtags, usernames or even webservices which you don’t want to see mentioned anymore in your the stream of people you are following.

By using GTFO OMTF, you can temporally mute those tweets in your timeline that annoy you, like the ones with the hashtag #worldcup, without the need of unfollowing specific users. That could be smart since the worldcup ends on July 11th, and after that, even those notorious worldcup addicts (I might be one of them!) will get back to their usual Twitter business.

For benefiting from GTFO OMTF you have to use their no frills Twitter interface instead of the Twitter client of your choice. If you prefer a Twitter browser client, you could have a look at TweetDeck instead, which also does include features for removing specific words from your stream.

/Martin Weigert

Epic News: Twingly Channels now open for all!

Twingly Channels was launched in closed beta in October, which seem to be an eternity ago. Since the launch we have been working hard with lots of other stuff, like Twingly Live and growing our network of partner sites.

As of this moment we are finally able to focus on Channels again and make that focus laser-sharp on creating an awesome user experience and an overall great tool for discussing news.

Today we’re happy to announce some great news about Twingly Channels. First of all, now everyone can sign up for free without invitation code. So if you haven’t yet, sign up right away! Secondly, all Channels are now open accessible without login so you easier can link to it from your blog, tweet or website. You still need a login to comment, like, subscribe or post new links. And you will have to wait a few weeks more to be able to set up your own Channel.

Meanwhile, check out all the Channels already set up by beta users!

About Channels
Twingly Channels is the best place to find and discuss news. By following topics rather than individuals, you immediately get into a crowd of people sharing a interest. Every Channel consist of two views, Top Stories where the most shared and discussed stories are prestented and the Incoming view with most recent stories. Twingly Channels is currently in open beta. Sign up here!

How to monitor the Social Web with Twingly

We know that many of you are working within marketing, media, are running a company or doing freelance work. And we are pretty sure that most of you are curious to see what users are publishing about you, your company, brands or services on the Social Web.

We have a tool that might help you collecting this information. With our blog and microblogging search you can easily monitor all the things people online say about you and the products you work with. That helps you to stay in touch with your loyal customers and target groups and also gives you valuable information for improving and enhancing your offerings.

So now we explain you how to get started. It’s only 3 steps! First, we’ll show you how to monitor what people are saying about you in blogs, and then how to monitor microblogging services like Twitter.

How to monitor blogs with Twingly

1. Go to www.twingly.com and sign in with your username and password. If you don’t have a Twingly account yet, you can create one for free by clicking on “sign up”

2. Click on the link “Blog search” in the navigation bar at the top of the site (the direct address to the Blog search is www.twingly.com/search). Now, enter the keyword or keywords you want to monitor into the search field, like the name of the company you are working for or of a specific product or brand. Press “search”.

3. What you are seeing now are the results of your search, that means all the blog articles from around the web that include the keyword(s) that you entered. Above the result list you find different filters to sort the results, for example by language or date they were published. For monitoring purposes we recommend you to change the “Sort by” filter from “TwinglyRank” to “Date”

To the right you see a box with the links “Subscribe to RSS” and “Create Email Alert”.

By clicking on “Create Email Alert”, you subscribe to the specific search by email. After you have done that, we’ll send you every day one email with the latest results for the search term(s) you choose. And if you are getting tired of too many emails, you can simply click the unsubscribe link in the mail whenever you want.

If you instead prefer to subscribe to the search by RSS, click on the “Subscribe to RSS” link, copy the complete link from your browser address bar and paste it into your RSS reader of choice, like Google Reader. Every time we find a new blog post mentioning the keyword(s) you chose, you’ll get it delivered right into your RSS reader.

How to monitor Twitter and other microblogging services with Twingly

1. Go to www.twingly.com and sign in with your username and password. If you don’t have a Twingly account yet, you can create one for free by clicking on “sign up”

2. Click on the link “Microblog search” in the navigation bar at the top of the site (the direct address to the Microblog search is www.twingly.com/microblogsearch). Now, enter the keyword or keywords you want to monitor into the search field, like the name of the company you are working for or of a specific product or brand. Press “Microblog search”.

3. What you are seeing now are the results of your search, that means all the mentions of the keyword(s) that you entered. To the right you see a box with a few microblogging services that you can either include or exclude in your search. We recommend you to not uncheck the Twitter results, since this is the microblogging service with the highest user activity.

After you have decided which services to include, you can choose between subscribing to the RSS feed of that search or to create an email alert instead:

By clicking on “Create Email Alert”, you subscribe to the specific search by email. After you have done that, we’ll send you every day one email with the latest results for the search term or search terms you choose. And if you are getting tired of too many emails, you can simply click the unsubscribe link in the mail whenever you want.

If you instead want to subscribe to the search by RSS, click on the “Subscribe to RSS” link, copy the complete link from your browser address bar and paste it into your RSS reader of choice, like Google Reader. Every time there are new microblogging posts mentioning the keyword(s) you chose, you’ll get them delivered right into your RSS reader.

Some final advices

  • If you don’t get many results for your search, a reason could be that you have entered too many keywords. Try to remove one or more of the keywords.
  • There are some more advanced search queries you can use to improve the results. Have a look at them here for the Blog search and here for the Microblog search.

/Martin Weigert

The future of web and location based apps

We have written before about the rise and competition of location based social networks (lbs) that enable mobile web user to make actions based on their whereabouts, like checking in to a restaurant, club or store, receiving information about nearby locations or seeing where their friends are hanging out.

But the the big question is: Should that be everything? Even if users might benefit from seeing who else is a regular visitor of a location or from knowing that a good friend is close-by, and even if they might get rewards for checking in often at a specific shop, using applications like Foursquare or Gowalla is still mainly a pure fun activity without deeper purpose and nothing that really helps you improving your daily live. I’m sure the majority of lbs users would agree with me on that.

Fortunately we have Robert Scoble, the Silicon Valley uber-geek, who recently wrote a guest article for TechCrunch, outlining his vision of how location based services will work and interact with other apps two years from now. And his ideas are compelling.

Basically, Scoble sees Foursquare as the heart of an ecosystem of apps that serve users in different ways. Instead of just checking in with Foursquare (or any other location based service that you would want to see in Foursquare’s position), the app would be connected through APIs with other web services and could trigger actions on those external tools.

In Scoble’s world, Foursquare could help notify a meeting partner about when he (Scoble) approximately will arrive (via Glympse). It could make Plancast, a “check-in” service for future events, inform Scoble about upcoming events in the immediate vicinity, and it could initiate a concert ticket search with Siri, the personal assistant service bought by Apple.

So instead of users making a lot of manual tasks separated from each other, one app would automatically talk to another app, based on a person’s location.

Scoble continues to explain how this chain reaction of app requests could trigger Yelp, the US review site, to search for popular and positively reviewed restaurants close to the concert venue. Afterwards, he would count on Blippy and Expensify to provide credit card statements and expense reports.

What Scoble describes is the end of the “information silos”, which means all those neat web services many of us are using on a daily basis, but that don’t talk to each other, and that can’t leverage the information and data we are spreading on the web, since it is pushed into information silos and can’t get out there anymore.

Actually you don’t need to be Robert Scoble to see all this happening. The whole process has started years ago when the first consumer focused web tools got developer APIs. APIs are the tools that help to open and tear down the information silos. Service A will be able talk to service B which could connect to service C. Suddenly all the information you gave service B can be accessed by A and C – if you authorized them – and they can learn about your preferences and interests. Suddenly a check-in at Foursquare would be much more meaningful, because Yelp (as an example) could use this information to improve its own results, to adjust them to you and to provide you with assistance without you even having to enter a manual search query on their website.

Location based services would allow for a much more personalized web experience, and they could make people’s everyday life much easier.

But as everything, there is a flip side, too. One challenge is that since many services are connected and relying on each other, if one part of the system fails, the rest would be affected as well. The more parties and APIs are involved, the higher the risk that at any given time, at least one would be struggling.

A second concern is more a theoretical one. But I wonder what it would mean for mankind if people “outsource” more and more task to machines. Could it happen that we lose our capabilities of managing and handling the most simple issues because we have gotten used to that they are taken care of by computers?

I’m not sure if this actually is something to be concerned about. But it might be worth a thought. In any case, connected web apps have the potential to increase our quality of life in many ways. So I’m looking forward to 2012!

/Martin Weigert

(Illustration: stock.xchng)

Don’t Stop Believin’, it’ll be better

We’ve had some problems with our indexing since late evening yesterday. To make a long story short, it takes several hours before new blog posts will show up in Blogstream and Blog Search.

The problem was fixed this morning and our systems are working hard to catch up on the queue but be patience with us that it might be hours of delay until tonight.

We’re very sorry. Hope you all enjoy the sun in Europe today!

Photo (CC): sskennel

Update: it’s back to normal and everything is running smoothly again. Thanks for your patience. /The Team

How the realtime web changes the world

At Twingly, we are big fans of the realtime web. Well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise since some of our services are built around it – like Twingly Live and Twingly Channels.

The interesting thing with the realtime web is that it is more and more becoming an integral part of the web. People are taking for granted that it is there, without thinking about it. While the term “realtime web” always has been used mainly by web enthusiasts and geeks, the idea of user generated content published in (near) realtime through platforms like Twitter, Facebook or others that allow for instant status updates and search, has spilled over into the Internet mainstream. Considering that Facebook is close to reach 500 million active users and having in mind that the social network encourages people to publish content to the public, it’s very likely that the publicly accessible realtime web is now being populated by hundreds of millions of people.

The contribution of web users all over the world to the continuous stream of information has become an important part of many people’s web usage. And search engines and services like Twitter Search, Snap BirdOneRiot, Tweetmeme, Openbook or even Google and Bing enable anyone to tap into this realtime stream, to see what people are talking right now, which links they are sharing – yes, in fact even to get an overview about the mood of people, right now and by looking back and aggregating status updates.

While most people are aware of the new possibilities and usage patterns triggered by social networks, blogging and microblogging, I’m not sure if everyone has thought about the consequences all this could have on societies and economies.

It’s worth to take a minute and to think about the way the realtime web is changing the world. That sounds like big words, but it might not be exaggerated. The realtime web makes it possible for people to organize without formal leader. We have seen in a few non-democratic countries how Twitter was used as a tool to avoid censorship, to spread news and to inform about upcoming demonstrations and protests. With the realtime web, people can organize faster. Really fast – and as some unofficial street parties in France show, in a way that the authorities have problems to adjust. Imagine what this could mean on a bigger scale. If suddenly and without any previous planning a million people would gather on a city’s main square, after reading about it on Twitter 30 minutes before. A really big flash mob. That’s a power of the people even western societies are not used to.

I don’t want to claim that the realtime web already has made the world more democratic, but it at least has the chance to do so. And it definitely creates transparency. In any second, you can use a variety of technologies to receive people’s honest realtime feedback on products, services and events. Last time everyone could witness this was on Saturday’s final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Following the #esc hashtag on Twitter was almost more fun than watching the show.

Even if you cannot be sure that everything you read is true, the social connections between people and the way they earn trust over time by being a reliable and authentic source of information and opinion acts as a filter, ensuring that not every stupid rumour is going viral.

On the other hand, that’s not always enough. There have been so many occasions when people falsely were said to have died. Those kind of stories do not always come from Twitter or other realtime services, but rather from mainstream media and gossip sites. Still, with the realtime web, they are spreading much faster and reaching people who otherwise never would read celebrity sites or questionable tabloids.

I think it is necessary to highlight that there is a risk involved in the realtime web. A risk that the combination of global connections and weak filters can lead to misinformation’s on a large scale, which could spark unrest or even panic. Especially in a situation where a really bad news is hitting the web, not all people necessarily think about fact-checking or going to another, renowned newspaper site to get a confirmation before sharing the news. So I don’t think it is too far fetch to expect some major case of global misinformation caused by the realtime web. But that’s maybe what needs to happen to make people realize what power the realtime web gave them as a crowd. And fortunately and despite the uncertainty regarding the future of journalism, there will always be professional journalists who can correct false reports or complete incomplete information spreading on the realtime web. That’s one of the main tasks future journalists will have to work with.

Even though there are some question marks about if the realtime web in fact could cause trouble to people, in my eyes the advantages and opportunities are prevailing. More democracy and more transparency could at least in theory lead to a better and more honest world. It’s up to us to make it become real in practice, too.

/Martin Weigert

(Illustration: stock.xchng)