After generating a lot of buzz a few years ago, I think it’s safe to say location-based social media has failed to take off in the sweeping, Facebook-esque way that many investors and innovators predicted: in January of this year, after over three years of operations, FourSquare only had about 30 million users. But that doesn’t mean the basic concept itself is flawed: rather, it may simply be a matter of execution.
On that note a new wave of location-based social networks is launching, focused on enabling users to plan future social events, rather than simply broadcasting their current location. One of the most interesting of these is OverNear, a location-based mobile social platform which recently debuted at the iTunes app store. At launch OverNear’s board of advisors includes Will Glaser, co-founder of Pandora, and Jerry Quinedlen, the former CEO of Logitech.
OverNear keeps track of the times and places you and your friends plan on being with a calendar-like feature, then automatically highlights when your plans overlap, making it easier to coordinate and take advantage of social opportunities. The overlap is shown graphically with overlapping user timelines linked to interactive maps; the individual user can set the desired range for alerts (in case they only want to hear from friends within, say, one mile of their present location, with a maximum rang of five miles). The app also stores each user’s history, so you can tell if friends have, for example, visited a particular bar or restaurant before. Users can invite friends via their phone contacts or by importing their Facebook friends.
Privacy is obviously a critical concern for location-based social networks -- indeed, it may be the main reason earlier attempts have fallen flat -- and OverNear co-founder Bill Glaser (not be confused with Will Glaser of Pandora, above) emphasized that users have total control of their information on the network.
First of all, OverNear is not a “social discovery” app, meaning their profile is only accessible to friends, and the platform never shares the user’s precise location, just when they’re “OverNear,” i.e. in the general vicinity of someone else. The user can operate in stealth mode, not broadcasting their current or future location to anyone, and can also choose to share limited information, or only share their info with certain select friends. Finally, location-sharing automatically shuts off after a set amount of time unless the user chooses to keep it active, so the user can’t forget and accidentally show up in alerts when they no longer want to.