Loopt to make mobile presence usable

Mobile presence application Loopt has launched its service tonight. Loopt uses GPS and related data to display the location of a user’s friends along with their presence status (available, away, etc) on maps and lists. Users will be able to request alerts when friends are within a certain distance, send messages to groups of friends within a certain distance and soon will be able to tag and blog physical locations in a way that’s accesible to friends through Loopt. The service is initially available only to Boost Mobile customers.

The company received early funding from Paul Graham’s YCombinator and $5 million in series A from NEA and Sequoia. It has been known previously as Radiate and Flipt.

The future of computing is definitely going to be heavily impacted by hand held mobile devices, so show me something that resembles IM, mobile blogging and group SMS mashed up and I’m interested. I can definitely imagine going downtown to work at a coffee shop, requesting notification if any of my friends came within a few miles of me and having all the more access to the people I know and want to spend time with. There may well come a day when passing near someone important to us, both of us carrying a GPS enabled device in our pockets, and not being aware of each other’s proximity seems absurd.

Loopt includes a Java mobile client and an ajax access point for non-mobile browser use. The company has formed a partnership with youth targeted Boost Mobile, a pay-as-you-go Sprint/Nextel subsidiary, to offer a service called Boost Loopt free for the rest of this year and as a $2.99 monthly add-on service beginning in January. Loopt hopes to expand to more networks soon.

The difference between Loopt and the now Google owned Dodgeball is that Dodgeball is text-message based and seems far less smooth an experience. Another player to watch in this space is Jaiku, which appears to be limited for now to Nokia Series 60 Second Edition phones.

Do I want other people to know where I am by tracking my phone? Too late. Do I want to be able to use that information for my own purposes? You’d better believe it. Do I have any faith that such information would be protected from intrusion by unwelcome parties? Not today and not with the launch of Loopt; it’s just a (smart) UI making the data that’s already available functional for my friends and I. SMS has been a global force for years now, mobile presence could well be the next stage.

In semi-related mobile news, PaidContent is reporting that Newscorp has bought 51% of Verisign’s mobile content network Jamba for $187.5 million.