Glancee: A Nice-Guy Ambient Social Location App For Normal People

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Some of us can’t be bothered to check in, but still want to find interesting people nearby. The challenge for developers is how to do this in a way that is both useful and not creepy. Glancee, available for both iOS and Android, gets closer to solving these problems than most I’ve seen.

The app lets you sign in with Facebook, then it shows you people within 100 yards, or one, two, or ten miles who have things in common. In some ways this sounds similar another app I recently covered, Highlight — but there are key differences, that will make each app appeal to different sets of users.

Glancee works extra hard to match interests while minimizing the stalker feel. The main screen shows the Facebook profile photos of nearby people, but does not show a map of where they are, and it only summarizes the number of friends and interests in common. If you click through to the other person’s profile page, then you’ll see a list of Facebook friends in common as well as their interests versus yours.

The app compares your Likes in common with Wikipedia listings to identify similar categorical interests. Examples I’ve seen: If the other person likes The New Yorker, a line of text might say “You like The Econoimst.” If they like The Sopranos, it says “You like Mad men.” Sometimes these comparisons end up better than others, but overall the feature does succeed in showing you things loosely in common that might not have been obvious if you only compare Likes.

The app also goes very easy on notifications. During the past week I’ve been using Glancee, it’s sent maybe ten of them to me. I have to go to the app to see who’s nearby.

If you want to talk to anyone, a chat feature lets you message or voice call with them. A “News” tab on the home page shows you people with an especially large number of commonalities, as well as people who have visited your profile, or the activity of people you’ve communicated with.¬†Also, the app goes very easy on your battery life.

In terms of future business models, Glancee’s ideas are along the lines of other location apps: targeting nearby ads, deals, etc. based on the users behavior.

Before I share my personal opinion about Glancee, I should point out that there are many other location apps that somehow use ambient location to try to create quality new connections. But very few are directly comparable to each other. Glancee cofounder Andrea Vaccari noted on my Highlight post that there’s also JoinMingle, Gatsby, Ban.jo, Shoutflow, Blendr, and Unsocial. And of course, there are many more location apps that have been around for years, like Loopt and Foursquare, not to mention Google Latitude or Facebook Places.

Briefly, here are the other things that some of these non-checkin apps are trying to do. JoinMingle is explicitly for professional networking, Gatsby provides a very opaque means of connecting in that it pairs you with specific people for one-hour-limited conversations, Ban.jo aggregates every other location service that it can, Blendr is dating-oriented, and Unsocial is designed around meeting people at conferences and other events. Shoutflow is the most similar that I’ve seen to Highlight and Glancee, but it’s not available in the US iTunes App Store so I haven’t personally used it. So, none of these apps appear to be that directly competitive to Glancee and Highlight (there’s lots more to say about each of these other apps, but they’re not what this article is about, sorry).

Glancee and Highlight are the ones that I’ve used that have provided social experiences that I have found to be meaningful. But, because I live in San Francisco and I’m a tech reporter, Highlight has been much more visceral for me. Being able to see exactly where other users are in relation to me makes a big difference considering that I’m in a city of hundreds of thousands of people sandwiched in a few square miles. So does the fact that it only shows people in a few blocks radius. And so does the fact that I get pinged by it whenever anyone is near. These are crucial subtle differences that totally reshape the user experience. Specifically, Highlight has been connecting me with long-lost friends and interesting new people in the tech world, who I’ve ended up having impromptu meetings with, and Glancee hasn’t.

But that’s just my tech-bubble perspective. Glancee is doing a lot of things right, and considering that a large portion of the US population does not live in dense urban areas, this could be the app for them. If you’re in a suburb or a spread-out small city or a rural area, the miles-radius range is more appropriate, and a neighborhood map is less relevant.¬†Also, if you don’t like aggressive notifications and you like a long battery life, you’re going to like it more than Highlight.

But there’s always this caveat: Ambient location is not just something to build a company around, it is a feature that Facebook or Foursquare or any other big company doing location could also do very easily. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them test ambient out if any of these startups get serious traction. So readers, may each of you find the ambient location app that’s right for you.