PARIS – To Jyri Engestrom, most cellphone speed-dial systems might as well be a list of obituaries.
“You see the names of your closest friends, but you don’t know where they are or what they are doing,” Engestrom said. “For all you know, they could be dead.”
Engestrom, a serial entrepreneur based in Helsinki, started a company named Jaiku last summer to solve this problem and deliver what he called “rich presence.”
Jaiku’s software, which can be downloaded onto a growing range of phones or activated via SMS messages, allows people to learn where their friends are, what they are doing, who is with them and what time they last used the phone (and for how long). The service also alerts users when a friend posts a photograph or blog entry on the Internet.
“We channel all digital information about your friends into a single stream and combine it with their physical location,” Engestrom said. “You can stay more closely connected to the people you care about.”
Jaiku is just one of several companies now offering mobile phone services based around the location of friends and family.
Others include Plazes, a German company that allows users to record and broadcast their movements and favorite locations, as well as Mobiluck, a French company whose community of users can have their phones vibrate when another member is nearby.
For parents, there are phones offered in the United States by Disney Mobile and Wherify that allow pinpointing of a child’s location through the Global Positioning System.
“Mobile phones have already become the hub for communicating by voice, pictures, video and Internet,” said Mikko Pilkama, the director of multimedia services at Nokia. “Making phones aware of the context for all these activities is the next logical step.”
One coming Nokia phone, the N95, due to be released in the first quarter of next year, will integrate global positioning.
Engestrom said that in setting up Jaiku, it became clear that the sharing of such data also raised privacy concerns.
“We make sure that you as the user decide whom you share information with,” Engestrom said, adding that individual users own all information stored on Jaiku’s servers and can have it deleted at any time. Users also have the option of shutting off the system for privacy.
For those who do share their whereabouts and activities through Jaiku, a photo and their status appears on friends’ phones. Actions like selecting a quiet ring tone will tell all friends that you cannot be disturbed.
The Jaiku system will also report how many Bluetooth-enabled telephones are within range, identifying by name those who are part of the network.
For now, Jaiku has been financed through a combination of self-funding and seed investment, but Engestrom said location-based services like Jaiku could earn revenue from multiple sources.
In addition to location-based advertisements, there could be charges for premium features like storing information over longer periods of time, or for sending SMS alerts.
But some say the flood of information becoming available through mobile phones and other means is not always such a good thing.
“I worry that people attribute too deep a meaning to raw information,” said Danah Boyd, who researches social media at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“An increased flow of information should not be confused with a deeper bond.”
Boyd stressed that this also applied to other social media that gather large amounts of personal information, like blogs or digital photo accounts.
“The situation these technologies create is similar to what happens with Angelina Jolie or another celebrity,” Boyd said. “Just because I know a lot about a person does not mean they will help me on a tough day.”
An added risk for the location-announcing services is that people might find themselves unable to break away from following friends or old lovers, Boyd added.
“The problem is that people really, really love stalking,” Boyd said. “When you have just ended a relationship, it is not necessarily healthy to follow the exact location of your ex- lover minute-by-minute on your phone.”
Fuente: International Herald Tribune