Plazes, headquartered in Zurich and Berlin, is a social community that connects you and your friends to the places you spend your time. They’ve been around for a while (we profiled Plazes on the day TechCrunch launched in June 2005), and they recently raised €2.7 million in a venture round.
Plazes lets users tell others where they are and what they are up to. Currently, users have to download software which auto-determines user location based on IP address, network IDs from routers and other information and then places you on the Plazes map. If it was a location no Plazes member had visited before, you could name and describe the place and add Flickr photos. As good as Plazes was, the friction from requiring users to download software and use it whenever they changed location created friction and slowed user growth. Taking pointers from the simplicity of Twitter, Plazes is changing the way it handles location, and is also adding time and activity dimensions to the product.
The new features roll out next week. The client software will no longer be required to set location. Instead, users can simply add a place via a Google maps mashup (and are helped along the way with a suggestion mechanism), and can also say whether they were there in the past, will be there in the future, or are there currently. Users can also say what they are up to, a very Twitter-like activity. Users can give Plazes this data via the Plazes website, the client software or by texting it in via a mobile device. An instant messaging interface is coming soon.
The new version will also preserve a user’s update history and allow them to post locations for the future, allowing you to plan, or chance encounters. The timeline will also allow your friends to get a comprehensive look at where and when you hang out.
Friends can subscribe to people or places and see a data stream from that source. Groups can also be formed that include both people and places, and the feed information shows what those people are up to when they are at selected locations.
250 of Plazes 50,000 members will get access to the update before next week. Plazes draws a crowd that is 60% from the U.S., with the remaining mostly European.
Plazes is clearly trying to lower the participation hurdles to get more users and more participation from existing users. The product will be significantly easier to use, and adding the activity information means users are likely to update far more often than just when they change locations.