Telecom operator Bharti Airtel is piloting a location based service in Delhi and Mumbai, called Buddy Finder. The service allows allows a subscriber to monitor the location of an individual who has agreed to share his/her location with the subscriber. This is quite similar to a service from Telenity that had come up for discussion at a Mobile Monday in Delhi a few months ago. The cost of the service is Rs. 10 for 10 days, and can be activated using the *321*88# code. We learned of the service from a subscriber in Mumbai, and tried it out in Delhi. Our take:

The Challenge

The challenge for this service, is in replacing the phone call. If a subscriber has to take the initiative of requesting inputs on a buddys location, then what stops him from just placing a call and asking the same question, getting the same details. I don’t think the cost of the call will be a major factor in the urban areas for this service.

What We Liked

The concept is simple and very useful, and satisfied an important need: it operates on a ‘Master-Slave’ relationship paradigm, where it is highly likely that one individual will agree to share his/her location with another: for example, Husband-Wife (either way), Car Owner-Driver, Employer-Employee, Girlfriend-Boyfriend, Parent-Child, etc. A parent would want to know where his/her child is.

The other key thing is that it addresses the privacy issue by incorporating consent: only a person whom I allow access to my location will get it. An SMS is sent to users, asking them to respond to a request for location sharing. The people I was stalking following they had to respond with yes to be added to my buddy list.

What We Didn’t Like

— Only USSD based? I think consumers are far more comfortable with using SMS for querying than USSD, and having to go through a bunch of menus each time before placing a request is tedious.

— Airtel to Airtel only: Airtel subscribers can only track other (consenting) Airtel subscribers; it’s unlikely that Airtel would have access (probably via triangulation) to subscribers of other telcom operators. That limits the potential of the service. It’s unlikely that location sharing information will be shared among telecom operators, unless mandated by the government.

— Nicknames: strangely, I couldn’t choose ‘Nikhil Pahwa’ as my identifiable name on the service. Had to settle for a shorter ‘Nix’.

— Accuracy: The location isn’t accurate: it’s close, but not exact. I doubt that triangulation can adequately replace GPS: there have been occasions when, lost in the dense and crowded Chandni Chowk area in Delhi, a friend and I have logged on to Google Maps and used Latitude to locate each other. It’s accuracy (using GPS) is astounding; just for the record, for those who have launched Buddy Finder, I’m currently about 1 km away from “Ashok Pillar, Kamla Nehru Ridge, Civil Lines, Delhi”.

Suggestions:

Allow subscribers to set up alerts for specific users, perhaps at a specific time of the day. Alerts are non-intrusive, and don’t depend on users querying the system. That’s a value-add that trumps having to call. Also enable SMS  based querying, which will allow users to query for location, instead of making multiple calls to query ‘Where have you reached now?’ Would asking for an alert every 10 minutes until a particular time, or over a period of time be too complicated?

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