After months of careful iterations, a mobile app called Found is now available to all iOS and Android users in 26 countries. It's one of those apps that felt like it was missing from your phone until you installed it. Found helps you share where you're going and arrange to meet friends there. Or, it can help you find where your friends are going.

It's a fundamental use case for a smartphone, if you think about it, but no one has gotten it right quite yet. Real-world Web problems are tricky. It's hard to find a balance between utility, privacy and serendipity. Found, and its founder, Danny Tan, have really thought it through. Now it's time to let the people get Found.

Finding The Problem

Finding friends in the real world with the mobile Web is not as easy as the glut of location services would have you believe. Finding places is easy, because places don't need privacy settings. It's easy for place-owners to publish an event to help people find them. It's also easy for someone to decide to share whether he or she is at a place. That's a "check-in" service.

Check-in services, like Foursquare and Yelp, are built around places. The social world on those apps revolves around the places themselves. It almost works. But sharing where you are right now is not the best way to meet up in the real world. Sharing where you're going and when is the way to go. And that makes the initial act of sharing all about the user, the person. Where the user is when deciding to share doesn't matter, only who it is and what they're doing.

But that's sensitive. Whom do you want to tell, and how do you want to tell them? How much do you want to tell people about where you're going?

Found: The Solution

See? It's hard. Tan has thought about these problems for a while. I've talked through it with him extensively. He first reached out to me about Found late this summer after reading my post about the tricky implications of the social Web at Burning Man. That festival is a perfect test of the limits of our high-tech social norms, and those limits are where Tan's edge cases pop up.

"Found is address­ing the larger prob­lem of 'urban iso­la­tion,'" Tan told me. "There needs to be a rethink on how we inte­grate tech­nol­ogy into our real lives, par­tic­u­larly with the emer­gence of mobile com­put­ing. We believe Found is clos­est to being the next gen­er­a­tion social net­work that can help solve these problems."

The Found team thinks big. It's not just about getting in on the location craze. The app has gone through several phases, launches and re-launches on a small scale, in order to get it just right. Version 1.1 is the result, and it works. When I was in San Francisco for the Web 2.0 Summit last week, I used it to meet with Danny to talk it over. Here's how it worked:

Hanging Out

Danny and I had to reschedule our meeting a few times. It was my first conference, I was crazed, it just happens. We posted a few false starts. No big deal; they just came and went. Finally, it seemed like it was going to work out. We had a time and a general area, but no specific place. So I launched Found and posted a hangout at the nearest Starbucks. I set the hangout to be open from 12 to 1 p.m.

"Somewhere near here with @foounder," I posted. I decided to share the "hangout," as Found calls these events, publicly, in case any Found users were nearby and wanted to say hi. I also chose to tweet the hangout. Danny would have seen my hangout in his News tab on Found, but I mentioned him on Twitter in the post, just to let him know I had arrived.

Clicking through the tweeted link would take him (or anyone) straight to the hangout page, even on the desktop. Found has a nice Web view for hangouts that extends the usefulness of the app beyond the mobile device. Even though we hadn't picked a place yet, I was waiting outside the Starbucks, so the pin on the map would be accurate enough. Just to make it easier to find me, I decided to upload a picture.

The hangout then turned into its own conversation thread. As participants, our messages in the hangout turned into IMs, giving us push notifications when the other person replied. Those messages would be visible to anyone who looked, because I had set the hangout to 'public,' but they helped us coordinate the meeting without bothering anyone else.

Then we met up and had lunch. It worked!

The Right Features

The 1.1 release of Found adds a few features that flesh out exactly why Found is so useful. You can sync your events to your phone calendar. You can browse photos in full-screen mode. And in one of the coolest features of the new version, you can upload all the photos from a hangout as a Facebook album.

Facebook and Twitter are important vehicles for Found. It's a service that needs to reach all your friends to be useful, so Facebook is an obvious vehicle for that. Tan says Facebook's Open Graph is a natural way for Found to tell your friends about your plans.

Sure, Facebook has its own events, and its Messenger app has location tracking, but is that the way you want to meet up with your friends? By letting them track your every move on the way to the gathering?

I think tracking apps like that, or Apple's new Stalk My Ex Find My Friends abomination, are gross. For Windows Phone users, there's Bing's We're In app, which at least dissolves the temporary event and phone tracking after the party is over. But all these services are aggressive about sharing your exact location.

Found doesn't want those data. It just wants to share your plans.

Get Found

With so many apps scrambling to make a business out of your location data, Found is a relief. I kept up with its iterations over the last two months because I saw thought and care going into it. If I'm going to share my plans and my place in the real world, I want to do it carefully. Found's interface makes that possible.

It's better than anything else I've tried at letting me choose how noisy to be about my plans. It helps me strike the balance between actively inviting someone and simply stating my intentions. It provides great mobile tools for coordinating the meeting without creepily sharing my location. And on top of all that, it preserves my hangouts with friends as a thread in my history, photos and all, and lets me share them on my Facebook Timeline, which is apparently where the whole story of my life is supposed to go.

In every aspect of using Found, I have the choice of how open to be. That respect for the user is why I believe in this service.

So what are you doing today? Are you getting Found? It's free for iOS and Android, so take it for a spin. I want to see what happens when lots of people use an app that focuses on the real world, not the virtual.

Note: Danny says the app is hard to find on the Android Market due to the market's bad search, so try searching for "ilovefound" or "i love found". There's also always the direct link.

How do you feel about location sharing? Which apps work the way you want them to? Which ones creep you out? Share your thoughts in the comments.