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Social networking via mobile phone?
March 11, 2005 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Tech/Business: Say I were to conduct a feasibility study for social networking via mobile phones. I would like the service to enable people to define their relationships and be alerted when a specified contact is nearby (e.g., within 30m/100ft) - provided that contact has set themselves to be "findable" to that person. Is this already being done? If so, where can I find more information? If not, is this viable? Do we have the technology? How do I turn it into a profitable venture?

I started a feasibility study about this last year that focused more on the business side (establishing a local demand, etc). [I'm in the Philippines.] Now I'm much more interested in the issues surrounding it on a much wider and deeper scale. I figure it couldn't hurt to ask people from more technologically advanced countries to see if something like this has been done or is in the works.

Follow-up questions: What technology would be best to apply here? Should I be looking into GPRS? Bluetooth? Would people have to have special handsets for it? Would one have to write a special program to install in people's phones? Can it be an SMS-type service people can just subscribe to? Is it possible to restrict oneself as "findable" only to one person, or exclusively to persons one specifies as family?

Related secondary question: What are the security issues I might encounter, and how do I head them off?
posted by Lush to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Please don't chew me out for HomeworkFilter! I already did the study; I would just like to learn more about the actual implementation side of things.
posted by Lush at 8:53 PM on March 11, 2005


I know that this most certainly can be done. $20 handheld toys are capable of discerning "compatible" signals and communicating. Alerting the user is no problem, and testing signals to see if someone's unit is "on the list" should be quite possible. Of course, without proper protection, it also would be easy to hack a device to be "compatible" with anyone they felt like.

Range of communication depends on the hardware used, and I don't have the slightest clue of any real specs in terms of feasibility. Battery life may be a concern as well. You might be able to put this in some of the more advanced phones, especially Bluetooth enabled ones. However, set-to-set communications, I don't know if/which phones could handle it. If they can, I'm quite sure it could be a subscribable service such as SMS.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that this has already been implemented somewhere. However, being in a portion of the USA where high-tech gadgets aren't too popular, I haven't seen it.

As for your security questions, you'd be encountering unauthorized users trying to fake real signals, foreign devices that might cause interference, and most any other security issue that faces wireless devices. Make sure your programmer is competent in security measures and use some sort of user authentication.

Now, most of this is based on more tangential knowledge involving programming and basic hardware, so you'd be well off double-checking this information. I do know your biggest worries would be hardware capabilities (especially with phones and what the local companies offer service to) and making sure you have decent security authentication.
posted by Saydur at 9:10 PM on March 11, 2005


Of course, without proper protection, it also would be easy to hack a device to be "compatible" with anyone they felt like.

What a boon for stalkers and all other kinds of covert surveillance.
posted by Cranberry at 11:22 PM on March 11, 2005


*cough* Beginning last month, Proxidating began to get press. (Google)

There were also a few dot-com era shots taken: see Japan's Lovegety (and others that didn't reach the masses). And there's the technology dubbed Serendipity from MIT.

I'm sure like many things this is one of those technologies that's both a solution looking for a problem (geeks! speak up to each other already!) and something that will take off exponentially when properly consumerized. So, good luck, and read Paul Graham.
posted by dhartung at 12:07 AM on March 12, 2005


See Dodgeball. I use it all the time.
posted by eamondaly at 2:19 AM on March 12, 2005


This type of service is generically labelled "presence services". I worked for a start-up company implementing presence services using the SIP and SIMPLE protocols, but others are using both older and newer protocols. The location-dependent part of the service can be based on GPS data, transmission tower location based services, or user entered data. For a simple intro to SIP watch this cartoon.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:41 AM on March 12, 2005


(Whoops, I meant "GPS" in my question, not "GPRS"!)

Around here, one of the local telecoms is marketing a new phone package to parents with "kid locator" and "family finder" functions which I presume use GPS technology But it's good to know that you can use Bluetooth and downloadable software to accomplish similar tasks.

I'm sure like many things this is one of those technologies that's both a solution looking for a problem (geeks! speak up to each other already!) and something that will take off exponentially when properly consumerized.

Exactly, dhartung, exactly!

And McGuillicuddy, I'm glad that what I'm talking about actually has a name! It is nearly word for word how I described my proposal.

I guess the dating spin is what makes it marketable. I saw an ad many many years ago, can't remember what it was for - man, woman, train, love-at-first-sight, point devices at each other, exchange contact info via infrared, tadah. I also vaguely remember hearing about Lovegety. Serendipity and Proxidating seem to be leaning towards the same vein but, ehm, the prospect of meeting strangers through such a thing strikes me as a little creepy. What I would propose to use it for would be in a Friendster-like fashion. Dodgeball looks kinda cool. How successful is it? Has it reached critical mass?

Thanks for all the leads so far, everyone. Demand seems to be ripening.
posted by Lush at 8:52 AM on March 12, 2005


Awhile back The Daily Show had a story on something called "Gaydar."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:33 PM on March 12, 2005


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