Foursquare and Loopt have put location-based social networks on the map, and have potentially created a viable business model as well. Now there’s a new kid on the block, called Stalqer, which best described as a Foursquare on steroids. The iPhone app, which will be free, should hit the app store in the next few hours.
In theory, Stalqer is very similar to Foursquare in that it tracks your and your friends’ locations and broadcasts this information via the application and through push notifications. But one of the key differentiators is the fact that Stalqer updates the location in the background, which Foursquare, and most other apps, don’t do at the moment. This is because the device does not allow third party apps to run in the background. But Stalqer has found a way to record your location without you having to actually open up the application. So how does Stalqer do it?
The app sets up an email account which operates in the background, and collects large amount of data out of the POP or IMAP handshake relevant to location, primarily via the IP address. Stalqer’s founder Mick Johnson also tells me that the app contains iPhone configuration profiles that make it easy to install an email account pointing to Stalqer’s servers on the user’s iPhone. So when the phone checks for mail, the app gets a location point, which Johnson says happens on average, every 15 minutes.
Loopt has also found a work-around the whole background update issue by partnering with other companies in the mobile industry for an “Always-On Location Service (which costs users $3.99 per month).
In addition to background functionality, Stalqer lets you import your Facebook friends, via Facebook Connect, to the app. If your friends have made their general location public via Facebook, The app then syncs your friends with your iPhone contacts and will then show you where your friends are. So, Stalqer will basically pull any public information about your friend (i.e. what city they live in) and show where the friends is on your application, if if they haven’t downloaded the app. At the moment, you cannot see anyone on Stalqer who is not your friend on Facebook.
You can see your friends’ locations via a list format and on a detailed, high quality map. Similar to FourSquare, you can check into listed locations rather then just the app recording your location via an IP address. Stalqer has close to a half million bars and restaurants listed in the U.S and you can add locations as well. Stalqer will steadily add non-U.S. locations in the future. The app is actually missing one of the key gaming aspects of FourSquare—the ability to collect badges or mayorships. Since the app operates in conjunction with an email account and your address book, it allows you to conduct a conversation with your Stalqer friends within the app. The app also features an augmented reality view of your friends’ locations. And while Slaqer is only available for the iPhone, Johnson is hoping to roll out versions for the Blackberry and Android in the future.
So for me, the key issue with this app is privacy. The background location technology is certainly innovative but I really feel strange about Facebook friends knowing where I am at all times, even if I have not started up the app on my phone. Privacy has been an issue with Foursquare and I suspect that it will become an issue for Stalqer.
But Johnson says that Stalqer has very powerful security settings that let you specify whether you want your location broadcasted and you can also indicate specific friends who can see your check-ins. Plus you can make sure the app only shows your greater surround area (i.e. San Francisco) vs. your exact location within the city. And you can make customer lists with close family and friends who can see your detailed whereabouts.
At the moment, Stalqer isn’t monetizing the app because Johnson is waiting to see if the app will gain popularity. And Johnson adds that Stalqer is aimed towards a younger crowd (which is apparent from it’s demo video), who may not be as concerned with the privacy issues.
Stalqer seems to be focused exclusively on broadcasting background location and tapping into your social graph via Facebook whereas Foursquare’s new app includes gaming, Twitter integration and a few more bells and whistles. But Foursquare is addictive and Stalqer could be too, if you really want to stalk your Facebook friends. Of course, Facebook is rumored to be launching their own location based technologies, so it should be interesting to see how that effects Stalqer.