“Nothing Propinks Like Propinquity” – Diamonds Are Forever, Ian Fleming

Last Thursday I cycled from work, popped into a speciality liquor store and stopped at a pub for a swift pint near my home. In case anyone was out and about and our paths intersected, I published my movements via twitter for the world to see. While I went on my way, my phone checked me automatically into places I spent more than 10 minutes in, boosting my Foursquare ranking. I also dropped my future self a couple of geocoded notes (a reminder about some shopping that I needed to do and directions to a friend’s house) which pinged up on my phone as I got into the approximate locations over the weekend.

I did these things using Geoloqi which was one of the most interesting things Labs saw at this year’s SXSW. And others seem to agree – last week Geoloqi won the Best Mobile App award at Appnation. So, with the current fuss about Apple’s collection of iphone generated geodata and the seemingly explosive growth of location based services, it seemed to be a good time to talk to Geoloqi’s co-founder, Amber Case about Geoloqi, location and cyborg anthropology.

Labs: Where did the idea for Geoloqi come from?

AC: I met my co-founder Aaron Parecki in 2009 a few days after he moved to Portland from Eugene. Someone at a networking event told me that I should meet “this guy who had been tracking his location every 5 seconds for the last year”. When I met him, I immediately became very excited. I’d been talking for years about so many of the systems that Aaron was actually building. Soon after that, Aaron and I began working on micro projects together. Later Aaron set me up with an automated check in system based on GPS coordinates. The system allowed me to check into locations without having to load an interface. This was about 2 years before any of the geosocial systems were readily available.

I was elated by the discovery that Aaron and I had been working on the same idea independently of each other for the past two years. After a while, we began to present on cool things people could do with persistent location data. The presentations had large audiences and people wanted to do cool things with location data as well. The only problem was that Aaron was using an old Windows mobile phone at the time to track GPS data, and I was using an old Boost Mobile feature phone. The iPhone was just barely capable of tracking GPS data and neither of us knew how to develop apps for the iPhone, but that would soon change as we dove head-first into figuring out how make what we called “non-visual augmented reality” accessible to those with regular mobile devices.

Labs: What is the short term development road map for Geoloqi?

AC: We plan to finish the iPhone app and build up the Android app to the same level. We’ll be making the apps and the website much easier to use and polishing them up. You can expect to see some significant improvements in the features we currently have available, and there will be some new features soon such as calendar integration and improvements to our Foursquare and Facebook integration. Our next feature will allow you to add reminder@geoloqi.com to meetings on your calendar. Fifteen minutes before a meeting you’ll get a message from Geoloqi asking if you’d like to share your location with the meeting attendees. If you say yes, your route will be shared with them, and if you arrive at the meeting before the scheduled meeting time, you’ll get points. It’s all about trying to reward timely behavior.

Labs: Where do you see Geoloqi as a product further down the line?

AC: I can’t tell you where we will be, but I can tell you where we’d like to be. We see Geoloqi as an essential, perhaps even invisible, part of everyday life. As a tool for ambient discovery that provides information that is relevant and useful, instead of jarring and irrelevant. Basically a customized experience that frees up one’s time to be more human.

Labs: In the week that Apple and Sony have had to answer questions about collection and storage of personal data, do you worry that services like Geoloqi encourage people to give too much of themselves away?

AC: I think that Geoloqi encourages people to be mindful of what they give away. It’s a default-private service with information that can be shared for limited periods of time with certain people. I think that Twitter and Facebook encourage and reward the sharing of information with others. I don’t think that sharing is a bad thing. I think it opens up opportunities to meet others with similar ideas and experiences. However, location is something that is more than just talking on the Internet. It is a very private thing and should be dealt with accordingly. The idea behind Geoloqi is that it is a private location-sharing service that allows one full control over their privacy. We built it out our own desire to share information in a controlled manner with others for limited periods of time.

Labs: You’ve just given up your day job to work full time on Geoloqi – was this a hard decision and what are the differences between working for a company and being a start-up?

AC: This was a decision I thought about a great deal. Leaving a stable job is a difficult thing, but I felt more constrained every day.To me being a startup is going after something that hasn’t been done right, or building something that brings joy or excitement into the lives of others. A lot of technology out there is broken. Technology in general is very difficult, and there are problems out there that are very difficult to solve. I think it is a very valiant thing to try to solve those problems.

Labs: I remember a quote which said that a technology won’t propagate unless it satisfies a human/social need – what human/social need do you think Geoloqi satisfies?

AC: The need to be human. The need for technology to get out of the way and let humans live their lives. Innovation in technology comes from reducing the time and space it takes to perform an action, or compress redundant actions in order to free up time. Computers used to be the size of gymnasiums. Now we have computers in our pockets, begging for attention. We’re constantly planning for our future selves. We look at Yelp! reviews to prepare our next culinary adventure. We want to guarantee that our future selves will have a good experience. We’re connecting to tons of people to do this, connecting to the collective wisdom of a data set that consists of many samples. The more samples, the more accurate the data set. Why ask one person when you can ask many?

We want to guarantee that our future selves will have a good experience.

A vehicle is a physical transportation device. There are limits to how small it can be made. But a computer is a mental transportation device. It need not be limited by tangibility. Because of this, it has the potential to fill up with data without the limits of a tangible object.

One’s location is valuable to another if and only if that location or person is socially relevant during that time period. The basic case here is the meeting. Person A and Person B need to meet each other, but GPS data is only shared between them when they have a scheduled meeting. When the meeting ends, the data wall closes off, giving them back their privacy, kind of like a wormhole of temporary transparency between two people. This solves the problem of extreme bouts of “checkin-ism”, as well as the issue of remaining privy to one’s whereabouts all the time. If more people were on the network, this sort of action would have to be taken. Negotiations of privacy and messages would have to be structured so as to prevent push and SMS notification exhaustion. When done correctly, the system is a valuable time saver that decreases anxiety, showing that technology is not inherently good or bad. It is design that is important. The key is to dissolve the interface – to get it out of the way and let humans live their lives. I talk about this in my TED talk.

Labs: Do you see a role for brands to use Geoloqi and  what might this look like?

AC: There are four ways companies and brands can use Geoloqi. First, Geoloqi can be white-labeled so that its location capabilities can be used in applications. Second, the Geoloqi API can be used to bring location functionality into any existent application. For instance you could use Geoloqi to reward a user if they entered a store within a certain time period. Third, brands can make their own layers in the app that users can subscribe to. These three models allow Geoloqi to branch into many markets.

Finally, with the advent of the MapAttack! game, Geoloqi now has a gamification layer accessible to partners. Brands who are interested in leveraging Geoloqi for location-based interactive games are now capable of doing so. The key behind the brand use of Geoloqi is that it provides users a way to opt into rewards and services vs. just having advertising messages blasted at them. Location based recommendations and services, when done well, are something that helps one spend less time with technology and more time with reality. This is where advertising and marketing has to go in order to survive.

Labs: You describe yourself as a cyborg anthropologist – what does that really mean?

AC: A cyborg anthropologist studies the interaction between humans and technology and how technology affects culture. My thesis research was on cell phones and their technosocial sites of engagement. My research consisted of observing how thousands of people interacted with and through non-human objects. Mobile technology allows one to stand almost anywhere in the world, whisper something, and be heard elsewhere. These devices that live in our pockets need to be fed every night, and they make noises and require our attention. In only a few years these devices have become inexorably intertwined into the reality of our everyday lives. They offer us respite from the boredom of waiting in line and a way to keep in touch when no one is nearby, but they also paralyze many of us when they run out of batteries.

Mobile technology allows one to stand almost anywhere in the world, whisper something, and be heard elsewhere.

I’m fascinated with mobile devices for another reason – they are a bundle of sensors that we walk around with every day. That sensor data can be used to do very cool things, such as automatically turn on the lights in your house when you get home, or turn the lights off when you leave. This is because a phone can know when you’re within the region of space defined as “home” or not, and send a signal to your house to turn on or off the lights based on whether you are home or not.

Labs: What do you and Geoloqi need to succeed?

AC: We need to increase our ability to offer a good experience to our users and make things easier and easier to do. Right now we’ve barely been able to scratch the surface. My methodology for user experience design is something I call “superhuman design”. The idea is to make make the user feel like a superhuman. Flipboard does this incredibly well. The application offers rewards in greater proportion to the slightest interaction with the application. Geoloqi needs to be able to provide great value with minimal interaction. Information should be presented in a useful, non-invasive way to people without them having to seek it out. Technology should be an empowering experience, not an intimidating one.


Geoloqi are playing in an exciting area and one which is full of interesting problems in terms of technology, privacy and behavioural psychology. Our relationship to geography and location is undergoing fundamental change – it seems likely that a few years from now it will become impossible to get lost, except deliberately. As GPS enabled mobile computers become ubiquitous and an increasing number of services ask us for permission to store and broadcast our location we are going to need to think carefully about how easily we want to be found and who we are going to allow to do the finding.

(note: my iPhone has 25 apps that have requested its location in the last 24 hours)

This is all new, exciting and sometimes scary – sharing with friends, strangers, brands and the whole of the World Wide Web is something that needs to be carefully considered, both by users and by those who facilitate the sharing. The Geoloqi team are clearly aware of these issues and their default-private, timed-public model seems to us to be a considered balance between privacy and useful openness. We’ll be looking forward to seeing how the service develops and what comes from their Layer API.

Let us know what you think and tell us how much you’re happy to share and with who. And a big thank you to Amber and Aaron for their time – guaranteeing our future selves a good experience is a notion we’re happy to sign up to.