Brightkite is a new social networking site that seems to have found an interesting niche somewhere between Dodgeball and Twitter. I’ve had a chance to play around with it over the past week and have a few observations to share.
First, why is there a need for something between Dodgeball and Twitter? Dodgeball was one of the first social networking sites based on text messaging. It allowed you to create a group of friends, then check in from restaurants around town via SMS. Dodgeball would them broadcast your check-in out to your Dodgeball friends. It proved to be a great way to keep in touch and meet up with fellow foodies and drunks. However, Dodgeball was limited to large metropolitan areas and, after Google acquired it, failed to evolve beyond the initial concept.
Twitter, on the other hand, has no geographic ties, so allows people to network via SMS (or web, IM, etc.) with people all over the world. This is great at some levels, but loses the location ties as soon as your friend network expands beyond people living near you.
Brightkite allows users to sign up then add a group of friends to their social network. So far, no different from any other social network.
After that, check-ins are based on location, so a person can check in from a business (restaurant, airport, sports stadium), or location (City, state, zip). Your friends will receive updates on where you are. Beyond that, you can leave notes about locations you visit and publish photos of places you visit via browser upload or email from your phone.
Brightkite has many privacy settings, which allows you to share as much about where you are as you’re comfortable sharing with different classes of friends (you may not want to share your home address with the entire world, for example).
Beyond your network, you can subscribe to the updates of other Brightkite users within a set distance of your current location. This can be fun, since you may learn about things going on near you. Or, you may learn about a pancake at a local restaurant worth checking out thanks to a fellow Brightkite user’s sharing of a camera phone photo before digging in:
There are three levels for photo sharing: your friends, people near you (location determined by you), and the BrightKite Universe were you can view images coming in from all users. Cool stuff.
At this time, I imagine that Brighkite is building one of the best databases of relatively geocoded photos on the web. While you can geocode photos on many photo sites, including Flickr and Picasa, people rarely do so. Since Brightkite already knows where you area based on your check-in, they should be able to fairly accurately place your photos on a map.
Users can also send in notes, similar to Twitters or Dodgeball’s Shout-Out feature.
So, is this useful? I believe so, for people who like to keep up to date on what’s going on both around town and among their friends. It seems a lot like what Dodgeball would be like to day had Dodgeball continued to evolve. It is both interesting and useful to me.
Frank Gruber has some additional thoughts on Brightkite here.