Marco Polo Is A Simple App For Sharing Your Location With Selected Friends

A smartphone app called Marco Polo aims to make it easier for users to find and meet up with their friends.

The basic mechanic of the app is pretty straightforward, and is indeed reminiscent of the children’s game Marco Polo. Instead of text messaging back-and-forth with your friends to find out where they are, you hit the “Marco” button to share a pin showing your location. Then the app shows you a list of your friends, and you choose who to share it with. (You can also add an image or a message to the pin.)

Once other users get notified about your location, they have the option to share their location with you. And if someone hadn’t downloaded the app, you can still send them a link to your location.

There are, of course, many other location-sharing apps, and a broader category of similar apps under the horrendous buzzword “SoLoMo”. However, I haven’t seen anything that works exactly the way Marco Polo does.

Co-founder Aneel Ranadive said via email that the app “is more low key and less formal than texting, and less invasive than, say, turning on Apple’s Find My Friends or broadcasting to your entire network on Foursquare or Facebook.” Unlike Find My Friends, you’re not sharing your location on a persistent basis, and unlike Foursquare, you choose who you share with each time. (I’ve certainly had moments where I realized that I didn’t really want to share a given location with someone — but I didn’t have the guts to unfriend them on Foursquare, so I just didn’t bother sharing at all.) He also pitched the app as part of a trend of people wanting to share more privately, for example with Snapchat.

(Update: A couple of people also brought up Glympse, which may have a similar aim but achieves it in a different away; as I understand it, you continually share your location for a set period of time.)

The app actually represents a shift for the startup, which was previously known as Pinchit, and which started out as a daily deals site with seed funding from investor (and “Six Californias” advocate) Tim Draper, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and others.

Marco Polo has actually been available for iOS and Android for a little while now, but Ranadive said it’s only with the most recent update that the team is trying to go beyond a small group of testers.

I tried the app out myself. None of my close friends are on it, so it didn’t have much utility in terms of actually meeting up, but it was still fun to see where Ranadive was at a given moment. And it’s as simple and “low friction” as he said, with only a couple of taps needed to share your location.

If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, you can download the app here.