Blog Post

First Look: IRL Connect Puts Facebook, Twitter on the Map

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!


When Google’s Latitude location service launched, one of the main problems users experienced was that the service only located users’ Google (s GOOG) contacts — it didn’t include access to the most popular social networks, through which many users connect with friends. Therefore, it was only natural that someone would use Google’s Maps API and build a location service around social networks.

In Real Life (IRL) Connect, based in Amsterdam, opened a private beta this month that allows people to locate their Facebook and Twitter contacts on a map and interact with them on the social network from the map interface. I checked out the service, and my early verdict is that it has potential but maintains the same limitations as other location-based services — mainly, people need to opt-in in order to maximize its usefulness.

IRL Connect features an interesting location UI: Icons showing a user’s location aren’t defined by an avatar, but by their network first. If you have a friend on Twitter, her name will appear in an area above a Twitter icon on a map. When you click on the icon, a balloon-style app will pop out, and that’s where you’ll find her avatar, most recent Tweet, and can message her directly. Because Twitter is an active community, you’re constantly seeing Tweets ‘pop.’

But there’s a problem here. Since most Twitterers haven’t signed on to IRL, the majority of my Twitter friends in San Francisco were sadly trapped in a single icon in one location — the center of San Francisco, as defined by Google (see right). Only by signing on to the service can they release their icon to show an actual location.

trappedOnce they’re signed in, the problem isn’t necessarily corrected, either. That’s because IRL Connect doesn’t currently offer real-time Wi-Fi, GPS, or cell ID positioning. Instead, it forces a user to actively enforce locations. Where Google Latitude publicizes and plots your location from your phone (or PC) using signals from nearby cell-phone towers, IRL first locates a user’s position through his IP address. Once logged-in, he can manually position himself by dragging a crosshair icon to his correct location throughout the day. This will turn off some people immediately. But I think think this passive way of keeping location isn’t bad; you don’t have to worry about stalking, and running into your friends is always opt-in.

There are other interesting features, including a left-hand column beside the map that serves as a Tweetdeck of sorts. You can also post different status updates to different social networks and track your friends’ location moves via an “Event” history.

I think attaching itself to big social networks is both a good and bad idea for IRL. For example, the fact it makes good use of Facebook’s existing data means it doesn’t have to deal with privacy settings; you can already limit your contacts there. But it indicates future competition from the social network behemoth — there’s no question it will make larger companies realize that a map addition to their network is a good idea. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing future updates to this data map-hack.


13 Responses to “First Look: IRL Connect Puts Facebook, Twitter on the Map”

  1. Bob,
    The Meat and potatoes of your post seem to be “My concern is with naive, young (and adult), uninformed, gullible users and others with zero understanding of the technology getting over-hyped on the message “Wow! Isn’t this great? Cool or what?”

    At what point in time are parents supposed to be help responsible, and pay attention to what their children are doing? Do not point the the blame of misuse of this technology on “naive, young (and adult), uninformed, gullible users and others with zero understanding of the technology” but blame the uniformed uneducated, unprotective and uncaring parents who do not monitor their children, nor take the time to be educated, protective, or informed.
    If a minor goes out and gets drunk and gets hurt, do we blame the alcohol or the child?… OR do we blame the PARENTS!?? Where were the parents? Why didn’t the parents know what the child was doing? Where they were? Who they were with?
    It is a PARENTS RESPONSIBILITY in this technology driven society to keep track of what their children are doing online and on their Cell phones, WHO their children are talking to online, WHO their friends are on FACEBOOK or social networking sites. If a service like this were to get out of hand, it would be a very real reflection of the parenting skills people have adapted.
    Use what ever exscuse you can, “Children add it without their parents knowledge” or “* They end up with dubious “friends” on Facebook who “pretend” they are other cool kids but are actually pedophiles” Bottom line it would be the parents responsibility to monitor their children, their friends on facebook ect. not developers of the software or facebook.

    Your Concern is “.. with naive, young (and adult), uninformed, gullible users and others with zero understanding of the technology getting over-hyped on the message “Wow! Isn’t this great? Cool or what?”

    Bob, “You cant raise other peoples children”. However it does sound like you are a very informed and educated parent yourself. **Applauds**

  2. Hey Joe, (cue Hendrix ;-) )

    Yes I DID read the article and I was also VERY clear when I said in my very first point: “IF your location is known ACCURATELY in Realtime and is available PUBLICLY ON-LINE”. Also, the legally acquired & permitted use of the LBS information is not at question, the potential for illegitimate access and the ease with which that might occur most definitely IS.

    Of course if it is NOT accurate, NOT Realtime, NOT publicly available on-line, then ….

    my concern is that unfortunately it will reach a point all too easily when all the above WILL be true, effectively by default, and it will be the naive end-user who will be blamed for it all when it goes bad. Those of us who are familiar with and understand any particular technology and its associated potential, perceived or actual risks have a duty (surely?) to inform those who aren’t/don’t, and NOT for us to provide reasons why we shouldn’t bother.

    Look, I gave some other (arguable) examples already in my first post, but here’s another less arguable one: a simple and totally viable (pre-existing, even) scenario – unfortunately, true for almost ANY country in the world today but certainly for most Western countries and definitely true of the UK, the US, Australia & Japan:

    * Let’s say a child has a mobile/cell phone with GPS
    * Let’s also say they are at that very rebellious and “I’m independent and can take care of myself – you know NOTHING” teenage range i.e. 13 to 17
    * They have their “own” contract or PAYG, their parent/s pay for it but do not police the usage at all (sounds familiar so far?)
    * They have a PC at home and they have their own Facebook account (100’s of 1000’s of kids do)
    * They register for and get LBS, irrespective of whether or not the T’s & C’s say “adults only”, or whether or not it’s with the SPECIFIC service you are referencing, OR whether their parent/s say NO they can’t. Why? – because they think it’s “cool” of course – and it is, but that’s beside the point
    * They end up with dubious “friends” on Facebook who “pretend” they are other cool kids but are actually paedophiles (English spelling! ;-) )
    * They “allow/enable” these dubious “friends” to see their “actual” location (now I’m talking about when phones with GPS also come with the software loaded for GPS enhanced LBS and only requiring that someone registers to use the service – not long now before it’s likely to be ubiquitous.)
    * They already have pictures of themselves and their mates loaded on Facebook, their dubious “friends” have access to them and know what they (and their mates) look like
    * They have had long discussions with their dubious “friends” about their teenage “angst” and their hatred of their parent/s who “NEVER LET ME DO WHAT I WANT!”
    * Their dubious “friends” “follow” them online to a location (using their own web enabled phone of course), visit the location themselves and …….

    Is it really necessary for me to paint a more detailed picture of how this might proceed and end?

    Do you REALLY expect that this will NOT happen? Please do not say it can’t. It already HAS, and too many times to count in the UK alone. Not with auto-location YET maybe, but if it has happened without it, what can happen WITH it?

    MUCH more thought needs to be given to when, how, and on whose authority these services are made available. The lax approach that can be seen right now is undoubtedly because of complete lack of awareness on the part of the uninformed/naive and a total lack of concern on the part of the knowledgeable. To quote (or should that be paraphrase?) the portentous words of the “man in the tank” in “Battlestar Galactica”:

    “This has happened before and it WILL happen again!”

    My issue is NOT with the technology, nor is it any sort of desire to prevent people from using it. My concern is with naive, young (and adult), uninformed, gullible users and others with zero understanding of the technology getting over-hyped on the message “Wow! Isn’t this great? Cool or what?” – Yes of course it is, and there are dozens of potentially great uses for it.

    BUT …. PLEASE! THINK; DELIBERATE; OPEN YOUR MINDS TO THE POSSIBILITY OF THE UNTHINKABLE FIRST! Then ensure the RIGHT controls are in place across the board. And if you are a parent reading this and IT illiterate and/or technophobic, then DO something about it don’t hide your head in the sand.

    You think the jury needs to do its homework? I absolutely agree. The jury’s “homework” is to listen to ALL the evidence, discuss, cogitate and THEN make a judgement based on ALL the available information – not just the facts either. I only felt it fair to highlight some of the omitted information to allow people to make a sound(er) judgement for themselves – I doubt that everyone thinks exactly like either of us, hence the jury still being out – hopefully they ARE cogitating.

    Best regards.

  3. Bob,
    You apparently didn’t read the article. With Location based services, only the people that you allow to see your location will be allowed to view you. I wouldn’t be adding criminals and thieves to my facebook, or let alone allow them to see my location or be able to track me. This technology give the user complete control of who sees them when and where. Not to mention you can be passive about it and check yourself in somewhere that your not! (Ex. Your supposed to be at work but at the bar!) It only works when YOU want it to.
    When it comes to your last comment about lack of privacy. You choose AGAIN if you want this service or not, no one is forcing you. As for Government or police ect “tracking you” Google latitude and other “runner ups” for LBS services have required a search warrant be provided before they will give up any customer information or location.
    Now Bob, as long as you are not a criminal or a thief, you will be fine.
    Ps. Did you know that ALL cell phones are GPS 911 enabled (Federal law) and if they really needed to they could track you just from phone calls alone and cell phone triangulation. ;)
    Methinks the jury needs to do their homework.


  4. Before everyone goes off like Martha & The Vandellas “Dancing In The Street” over this “cool” technology, albeit with a few small technical hurdles still to overcome, people should take a LONG hard look at some of the potential implications:

    1. If your location is known accurately in Realtime and is available publicly on-line …. what’s to stop burglars and other criminals from using the information for their nefarious purposes?

    2. What’s to stop someone using the information to frame another for something by being able to “prove” that the “innocent” party was at the crime scene at the relevant time (I claim copyright on the idea for the film script ;-) )

    3. Other criminal possibilities exist for such simple things as predicting that every Friday you make a visit to the “Hole in the Wall” (that’s an ATM or cash machine for those outside the UK) and watching your progress towards said money “donation” device.

    The UK (apparently) is the most surveilled country in the world with more CCTV cameras per capita than anywhere else. The average UK citizen, at least according to a fairly recent report on the BBC, cannot go more than about 5 minutes within a large urban or city environment without being recorded somewhere on video. We have precious little opportunity for privacy these days; do we REALLY need to be giving even more of it (and our secuirty) away through such “trivial” and “security-issue-laden” use of technology?

    Methinks the jury is still out on this.


  5. Nice piece Jose. You’re right about twitter friends signing up to see their actual location, feel free to invite them with the invite key.

    To readers: If you’d like to see your facebook or twitter friends on the map – email me to get an invite key to the Private Beta.