Friday, December 12, 2008

There you are then...Location Based Social Networking - Brightkite

This week I took some time to explore location based social networking and as Brightkite just got out of beta last week, I thought it would be a great place to start.

I had a nice chat with Brightkite's founder Brady Becker. Prior to launching the social network, Brady was the Senior Designer at Local Matters, a company that provides yellow pages and local publishers with media technology platforms to deploy and scale local directories and specialized portals. Brady’s insight into the local media opportunity and the explosion of social media inspired him to create Brightkite.

Launched in beta April 2008, Brightkite is a location-based social network that works on a variety of different platforms including the web, mobile web and several GPS devices. By “checking in”, users can reveal their location to their network of friends (at varying levels of granularity from country to city to actual address). Web 2.0 tools allow users to annotate places with notes and photos viewed across the network.

Here are some applicable scenarios for the service:
  • At a conference or other event that draws crowds with common interests, users can connect with one another in real life by “checking-in” to the location.
  • Discussions that are tied to an event or place can be shared centrally through a specific location feed (think Twitter) providing a real time record of discussion surrounding the event. In some cases the feeds are displayed on large screens.
  • Friends can coordinate meetings based on relative physical distances.
The service targets the 18-35 demographic and Brady is pleased with the uptake (sorry - no numbers) on users that are willing to reveal their location. Eventually, the auto-reveal function will become an option but Brady stressed the importance of privacy and control as a priority and feels that this may take some time to unfold.

Brightkite’s business model has two core components:
  • Location-based/behavior based advertising - allowing advertisers to reach audiences based on varying levels of granularity.
  • Place analysis and targeted marketing - provides investors and marketers with valuable research about locations (even intersections) and the people that frequent them

Brightkite received about $1 mil in angel funding in February 2008 and the company opened its doors to the public in early December 2008.

The service is available globally.

A couple of thoughts on challenges & opportunities:

There's been a lot of movement in the event space. It seems like a quite gold rush to get to the brilliant combination of time/place/profile advertising. We've seen some great presentations from companies like Zvents and Centerd as they move the needle on innovation across platforms.

Critical Mass is my biggest area of concern for Brightkite. The entire business model is based on delivering volumes of clustered people to advertisers or research hungry investors and marketers. The company will have to work hard to develop high impact event opportunities to gain visibility and drive users.

Privacy is being addressed by the company but when users reveal location to a network there is always risk. Without having studied the security measures behind the platform, it’s hard to tell whether the networks can or might be compromised. We've seen in other social networks that many users don't hold back on providing details. Address sharing takes public disclosure to a whole new level.

If the company can prove its worth by delivering some great case studies at a wide variety of events, the opportunity for acquisition by one of the larger networks would certainly exist.

I really like the research piece of the business. Again, seriously assuming that they reach critical mass (or get acquired by someone who provides this), they would be able to provide investors, marketers and business owners extremely valuable data about consumers as they move offline tied to behavior and time.

The business is thought provoking and I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds…

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