Brightkite faces some serious competition from a myriad of mobile social networks, all of whom are fighting to win the emerging mobile market. However, Brightkite has a few tricks up their sleeve that they hope will make them stand out from the rest, the most important of which is their ability to create a social network that merges with your real life.Up-and-coming mobile social network
A couple of weeks ago, Brightkite launched into their private beta, inviting 100 people to join their network. As those users invited others with the five included invites, the network began to grow. Recent conferences like the Web 2.0 Expo and ROFLCon spread the word even more.
The service, a device agnostic, SMS-based application, lets you "check in" at various locations out in the real world and then see who else is there, has been there, and who is nearby. You can check in via text or via the web, but text is easiest if you're mobile.
After checking in, you can post updates in a Twitter-like fashion and upload photos to your Brightkite-enabled stream, available at a URL in the format of brightkite.com/people/username.
A Brightkite User's Stream
Places, like your local coffee shop or favorite watering hole can have a stream of their own, too. Their "placestream" is created by the notes and photos that the Brightkite users in that area have added.
What's nice about Brightkite is that they aren't trying to be a Twitter killer - they just add a layer on top of Twitter. Although they didn't originally think to offer this type of integration, they soon realized that Twitter integration had a lot of appeal for their users. Now, in addition to Twitter, the service also works with Fire Eagle. Both services can be optionally turned on in the Account tab.
Privacy Is Important
The way Brightkite works now is by letting you check in at various places, called "Placemarks," which you can set up either via the web or via SMS. These placemarks don't have to be specific - you can check in at a particular address or place of business if you want, but you can also check into a city, a state, or even a country - if that's what you desire. You can name your placemarks whatever you want - for example I might make "Tampa, FL" a placemark called home as opposed to sharing my actual home address.
When you add friends on the network, you can choose to "friend" them only, or friend them and add them as a "trusted friend." By offering the fine-grained control of "trusted friends," you can control who gets to see your exact location. This way, you can connect with people on the network level - adding relationships very much in the same way as any other social network - as well as connecting with actual, real-life friends.
You can also edit each friend's detailed privacy settings as well, and turn on or off their ability to access your friend stream, text you, or email you, which allows for even more privacy controls.
Editing a User's Privacy Settings
There are also two modes in which you can post updates to Brightkite - public and private. Public mode is ideal when you're out and about and looking to meet new people and private mode is for when you want to restrict your activities to only being viewed by friends. By default in private mode:
- Strangers see your checkins at the city-level, and don't see your posts
- Friends see your checkins and posts at the city-level
- Trusted friends see your checkins and posts at full accuracy
However, all those settings are easily editable.
There are a lot of SMS commands to know if you want to fully use Brightkite, but a few basics will get you going without too much effort:
- Check in - @ address, city, zip, or placemark
- Post a note - ! your message
- Find a place to check in - ? business name
- Post a photo - Just email it in you're provided with a private email address for your account
- Message someone - m username your message
They also wanted to make sure that joining Brightkite was simple to do. Anyone can join by texting 80289 now (but due to the private beta, you couldn't use the Brightkite web site yet).
Current and Upcoming Features
Brightkite has big plans for gaining traction as a preferred mobile network. For one, they eliminate many mobile competitors by focusing only on competing with location-based networks. Even then they differentiate themselves by being platform and carrier agnostic and not focusing entirely on a niche crowd, like people looking for dates or iPhone users.
Also, with their "Placestream" feature, there is an appeal to anyone with a projector of some sort and a crowd. You could imagine a bar, for example, setting up an on-screen Placestream on a singles night to get people talking, but that certainly wouldn't be the only use.
Brightkite reaches beyond the dating crowd by offering a way for anyone with similar interests to connect in real life. Always typing away at your favorite coffee shop? You can connect with others who do the same. And unlike Twitter, which relies on hashtags to group people in a place, Brightkite does so by its very nature.
Future plans for Brightkite include web site widgets that you can embed either on your blog ("what I'm doing") or that a business could embed on their site in "placestream" format.
They're also working on GPS-enabled tracking and cellular triangulation features, but will make sure that neither of these are continuously tracking you - if you want to participate, there will be a simple way to turn the feature on and off.
In a couple of weeks, Brightkite plans to offer an API that they hope third party developers will pick up on to build even more applications using their service, and an iPhone app will be available in June. Based on the SDK, Founder Martin May believes that the next gen iPhone may include GPS, which they plan to support.
They're also looking at options for data portability. They want to make it easier to for users to find friends and move their data in at out of the network, but haven't settled on whether or not that method will utilize OpenSocial features or something entirely new. They will also make RSS feeds available for all the various streams.
Will It Work?
Does Brightkite have a shot at winning the mobile social network space? Yes, it's very possible. By appealing to the Twitter crowd, they're growing their user base quickly and by offering moblogging features, they make theirs a versatile app.
Says Twitterer Aubiematt, "I was using Flickr to post pictures to my blog. Hopefully soon, I will be able to replace it with BrightKite." Twitterer igorschwarzmann agrees with Chris Brogan, who likes their privacy features, CDReed is "all for encouraging real world interaction," and jeffisageek likes the concept and being able to control everything from his mobile device. In fact, out of everyone I asked, I couldn't find anyone who had anything bad to say about Brightkite at all, only people looking for an invite.
So to those looking for an invite, leave your info below. We have 100 to distribute. (Remember, OpenID users, email might not be displayed so make sure you let us know what it is). Feel free to add me as a friend once you're in.