Brightkite is tricky. Tricky and smart.
While larger than most of their location-based rivals with over 2 million users, they know that in the past year they’ve lost some momentum to the newer check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla. So they’re trying to do something unique to swing momentum back in their favor.
Today, at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Brightkite is unveiling its new Group Text service. It’s both a feature on the website and a standalone application in the App Store (it should be available shortly). With it, Brightkite is latching onto one of the most popular and fast growing categories in mobile applications: group texting. Unlike regular text messaging, this type of app allows you to message many people all at once (and go back and forth). And better, in a world where cell providers are still managing to rip-off users with their text message bundles or $0.15 rate per-text, group texting is absolutely free.
Services such as textPlus have already made the functionality very popular on the iPhone, and now Brightkite hopes that will translate into converting different types of users over to its core location-based service. The reason is that built-in to the Brightkite Group Text app is the core Brightkite functionality itself. While it’s a bit buried to the left hand side of the menu, you can both check-in at venues, and get check-in updates from other users in the app.
It’s a smart play. As other location services such as MyTown have proven, there’s a market to get users outside of the traditional early-adopter crowd into location by doing something novel (in their case, a straight-up Monopoly-type game). Group texting users seem to be rabid about the software, so why not give them a little location-based bonus to play around with if they desire?
At the same time, this app provides a nice compliment to the Brightkite service itself. With it, users get another social outlet to communicate with, sending messages or pictures, and having them threaded both in the app and online. And yes, it still works with traditional SMS messaging, as Brightkite was lucky enough to be granted a texting shortcode (41414) and it can work with these threaded conversations. For example:
By adding three digits to the end of the code, each person can now have 100 simultaneous threaded text conversations running on their phone.
41414-001 = conversation 1
41414-002 = conversation 2
And thanks to the SMS support, you can contact anyone in your address book, not just those using the app.
The service is now live on Brightkite’s site, and look for it later today in the App Store.