Glassmap launches today. Interesting name, right? It aptly describes a touchscreen map app. Co-founder Geoffrey Woo says the name is inspired by even more futuristic interfaces. For now, it's an app that persistently shares your location with your friends in the background. But it aspires to let you "point at them, see what they're seeing, jump into their context." Glassmap is for knowing where your friends are and how long they've been there.
It uses Facebook log-in, and it's on iPhone and Android, so it's more widely available than Apple's Find My Friends. It also shares location passively, so it's more... let's say intimate... than Facebook Messenger, which just lets you drop a pin when you send a message. Glassmap arose on a college campus, a community especially willing to trade privacy for social benefits. Will the general public adopt it? Well, remember how Facebook started?
The Glassmap team thinks check-ins have peaked. It's too much effort with not enough reward to manually share locations, and the resolution isn't high enough. Check-ins are just sparse dots on a map. Glassmap wants to track its willing users constantly.
They're not alone here. Google Latitude is a competitor, as is an older app called Loopt. But while under YCombinator's wing, Glassmap built its own technology, which solves one of the two problems it faces.
The technical problem with persistent location thus far has been battery life. Glassmap's conservative estimate, based on the iPhone, is that location sharing drains 5% of battery per hour. Glassmap spent much of its YCombinator time building its own technology, called Relay, which they say drains only 0.5% per hour, an order-of-magnitude improvement.
But the social problem might be the greater challenge. Not many iPhone users are using Find My Friends. Where's the evidence that people want to keep up with people's location constantly?
Glassmap was conceived at Stanford University, and 10% of Stanford undergrads are now using it. It has since rolled out to 10 other colleges, and Woo says it's going well. A campus is a natural place for an app like this. "We just wanted to know where are friends were, where our roommates were, where the parties were," Woo says.
He also mentions families or small, tight-knit groups of friends as potential use cases. "I want my five best friends to know where I am."
Maybe it sounds creepy now, but Facebook sounded creepy at first, too, while it took off like wildfire on college campuses. Maybe college is a good incubator. This app is still in the incubator stage, too. The user interface is not ready to change the world, but maybe the core concept is.
Most social media apps are narcissistic, asking users to intentionally broadcast themselves as if everyone cares. Glassmap shares what you're up to from your pocket, with the screen locked. Is this a whole new paradigm or just a campus fad? Share your impressions in the comments.
Try Glassmap for iPhone or Android.