A friend of mine recently pointed me to some location-based social networks that travelers may find interesting. In case you aren’t familiar with location-based social networks, they are social networks like Facebook or Twitter, updated from your cell phone that integrate your current location and let your friends know where you are.
There are some differences between three of the popular options, Loopt, brightkite, and foursquare so here are the basics to introduce you to them.
Loopt works much like many of the other location-based social networks and ties into your cell phone. As you post updates or are logged into the service from your phone, friends and contacts will see where you are on a Google Map. One of the drawbacks of Loopt however is that it only works with “smart” phones like the BlackBerry or iPhone (here are some of the best iPhone hacks for travelers if you’ve got one).
Loopt also integrates with your existing Facebook account and you can choose which friends to share your location with.
Similar to Loopt, the advantage of brightkite is that it works on pretty much any cell phone and doesn’t require an application or download. Your experience is limited by the phone you have so you might only be posting status updates on a via text message from a basic Nokia or pictures and video with an iPhone. brightkite also has a feature that allows you to find local groups within a defined radius so you can connect with others, like backpackers from Austria or Italian food lovers.
brightkite also integrates with your Facebook and Twitter accounts so you can post statuses and locations on those sites as well. Some of brightkite posts are publicly available, check the (very Twitter-like) updates on their homepage, brightkite.com.
foursqaure isn’t compatible with many phones (mostly the Blackberry and iPhone) but does have a feature that many travelers might find handy. The service lets you check out what other members have to say about “hotspots” you might be visiting or are nearby in a city you’re in. The New York Times cites a great example of how you might use this function.
When you check in at a nearby burger joint, even if you have no friends in the vicinity, you can still get sage advice from other users, such as, “Do not leave DuMont without trying the Mac-n-Cheese.”
foursqaure doesn’t seem to integrate with any existing services, but since you need a Blackberry or iPhone to use it, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube won’t be hard to get to anyway.
Are You Using Any of Them?
I’ll be signing up to brightkite sometime this week and I’ll post the username in the comments for those of you who want to use yet another way to digitally connect with me. Until then you can find me on Facebook, read my Twitter, or send me an old fashioned email.