Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks there is a social paradox in the location space. A new service, Rally, believes the power of location lies in less rather than more. That is to say, fewer social connections rather than more of them.
It’s an idea that you don’t hear a lot of social networks talking about these days as each tries to build a social graph that’s as sprawling as possible. But the team behind Rally is taking this different approach largely due to their past experience. Much of the team is the same one that built 12seconds, one of the video platforms that rose as Twitter began to become popular. And eventually, 12seconds started relying heavily on Twitter’s large social graph for its own service. But co-founder Sol Lipman isn’t convinced that’s the right way for services going forward.
So he pulled together a team with the idea of building a dead-simple location service from scratch. There is no option to pull in your friends from Twitter. No option to pull in your friends from Facebook. That’s ballsy, and risky, but it could pay off in the form of a location service that people use just with their actual friends. To put it another way, “friending becomes a virus that ruins your application,” Lipman says.
If you’ve used a location service such as Foursquare or Gowalla, Rally will feel familiar to you. Like those services, the core concept is to “check-in” at various venues around a city. But Rally does things a little differently. One thing is that they place an emphasis on tagging a check-in with a picture. You don’t have to do this, but Rally has a very nice stream UI that will highlight check-ins with pictures from those people you follow.
Another unique concept is the idea of checking in at “Home.” While plenty of users create venues on Foursquare and Gowalla for their homes, Lipman realizes that many people aren’t comfortable putting their addresses on these services. So the “home” location in Rally is a non-geotagged place that still allows you to check-in so that your real friends know that you are home. And since they are your actual friends, they will likely already know what that location is.
Rally also has a feature that allows you to make temporary locations. This is the perfect solution for creating a spot that is only going to last for a set amount of time, such as a conference or a party. These temporary spots automatically expire 12 hours after the last person checks-in there.
Leaving behind comments at venues, and the aforementioned picture functionality also gives the app an almost Yelp-like quality.
As with Foursquare, badges are also an important part of Rally. However, whereas Foursquare’s collection is pretty limited, Rally plans to gives users a ton of them for various activities (including a number of potentially racy ones).
Like Gowalla, much of the location data in Rally (such as venue names) will be crowd-sourced. They’re also working on some deals to get some pre-populated location information around the world. Until they do that, they are restricting the service to the Santa Cruz, CA area, where Lipman and his team mainly reside. Once they’re ready, likely in a few weeks, they plan to open it up to everyone.
So how does Rally make money? “With location-based services, you don’t have to rely on anyone else to make your money. Location is the Holy Grail of advertising,” Lipman notes. And he plans to use what they’ve learned from partnering with brands on 12seconds to inject a model into Rally.
An early build of Rally is actually available in the App Store right now as a free download. Eventually, the plan is to make a web version, and extend it to other mobile platforms. But for now the focus remains the iPhone, Lipman says.
A final differentiating factor to note between Rally and the other location services is that they’re decidedly not focusing on gaming elements. Lipman says they’ve talked to various groups of people who feel that these types of gaming elements are simply a gimmick. “Games have winners and loser, we just want to build a very clean service,” Lipman notes.
While Rally may not rely on Facebook or Twitter for its social graph, Lipman says that they may use Facebook Connect to help spread its data to your real friends on that network. He does not foresee them using Twitter, at all. In terms of how else they’ll spread the word about the service, Lipman says that have some other interesting ideas in the works, but declined to say what. The key will remain making sure that these are people you actually know and want to share your location information with, he says.