It’s great to accidentally run into a friend at a café. Or to bump into that cute young thing you like at a grocery store. But why leave such delightful encounters to chance? You don’t have to anymore. New apps will help you track the people you like online, so you can connect with them in the real world more easily.
Two of these apps, Connect and SocialRadar (both for iOS), work in much the same way. They collect the location data your friends are posting online using various different services and put it all on one map, centered around you.
If a friend checks in on Foursquare or Facebook, or place-tags a photo on Instagram, or tweets a location on Twitter, then these apps will help you find the check-ins that are close to you, to make meeting up easier.
Connect (see our How-To Guide) gives you not just recent check-in data, but also home locations (where people say they live or work, via Facebook). I used it recently to discover that an old co-worker of mine was living in Brooklyn. I have a trip to New York coming up soon; maybe I’ll pay a visit. Connect also has clever alerts. For example, it can send you a notice whenever a friend from out of town checks in somewhere in your city.
You can also use Connect to find particular groups, like people of one gender, or employment status, or even those who are single.
SocialRadar also gives you a lot of detail on the people close around you. For example, you can filter to see just people of the opposite sex, or who like the same TV show as you do. It will also show you friends of friends and how you’re connected to them. A very cool feature: You can set a data radius, to see just the people very close to you (like within 25 feet). This could be useful at a party. SocialRadar is even working on a Google Glass app, to help you get intel on the people in the same room as you. (But don’t be a Glasshole with it.)
Social Radar’s Google Glass app (prototype).
It’s easy to consider these apps stalker tools. Both can give you a kind of NSA view of where your contacts (sorry, friends) are, who is clumping with whom, and what cool event everybody’s going to that you’re not. “Bump into” someone you know too frequently, and you can creep them out. SocialRadar is the less creepy of the two, as it’s better at telling you who’s in the room you’re already in. It can be a useful social crutch.
Connect has a great web service for a real big-picture view of your friends. SocialRadar is mobile only for now.
But neither app can actually reach into truly private data sets. Everything these products display comes from information people have already given up: the location-marking features from other social products. It’s just the efficiency with which these apps collect, collate, and display that data that’s freaky.
In practice, the amount of data you’re going to get from these apps is limited anyway. I am connected to thousands of “friends” via Facebook, Twitter, and other networks, yet neither Connect nor SocialRadar shows me the real-time location of more than a few people near me. (Connect shows a lot of old data, in fact.) That’s because only a few of my friends check in everywhere they go. And those who do are essentially advertising their location. One can assume they want to be discovered.
Both apps will also let you report your own position to other owners of the app. SocialRadar will also post check-ins to your social services, like Foursquare.
(By the way, neither of these services is similar to the faddish real-time location reporting tools from two years ago, like Highlight and Glancee. Those tools were awesome at two things: broadcasting your location and destroying your phone’s battery life. Connect and SocialRadar do not constantly beacon your location, so they’re much easier on both your privacy and your battery.)
I’m a bit behind the times when it comes to location reporting; I rarely check in anywhere myself. But I find both Connect and Social Radar useful. I especially like the alerts in Connect. It’s also a more attractive app. I do like SocialRadar’s who’s-right-next-to-me feature very much, but not enough people I know use check-in services to make it reliably useful.
Both of these apps can give you an interesting new picture of how a portion of your online social network exists in the offline world.
Want to hide from people, not meet them? Check out our write-up on Cloak.