Google today announced a new feature in its Google Maps for mobile: Google Latitude, a friend finder application available immediately in 27 countries and 42 languages, across a wide range of mobile platforms.
Google Latitude requires a Google account to sign in; then the user can easily invite friends from an existing list of contacts or by entering their email addresses. Within Latitude users can call, SMS, IM, or email each other. Latitude is also integrated with Google instant messaging service, Google Talk, as well as iGoogle, a personalized Google web page.
In the same way it does for Google Maps, Google uses for Latitude its geolocation web service, MyLocation, which blends GPS and Wi-Fi (if available on the phone) and Cell-iD. On The PC screen (iGoogle) the location can also be updated via Wi-Fi posiitoning.
Because this application can continuously send out the location of the user, Google has been working hard on its privacy settings. As a result, the application offers a wide choice to broadcast the location. It can be set up in automatic mode with the most accurate location, manually, limited to a city level or completely disabled; each of these choices can be defined for a particular friend. In addition to that, friends can of course be banned from the whole application. (Watch the video below for more details).
To avoid the usual “Big Brother” fears, Google also insists on the fact that: “Only the last location sent to Google Latitude – either automatically updated or manually entered – is stored in our servers. If you turn off Google Latitude or hide your location, no location is stored by Google”.
More success than Dodgeball
Interestingly, Google is launching this new service one month after announcing it will shut down Dodgeball, another friend finder service it acquired in 2005 and never bothered to really take to the next level with sufficient investments.
But this time we can expect Google will have more success because it will leverage on the existing Google Maps – and to a certain degree Google Talk – users. In addition to that, and probably even more important, Google will build its user base on the existing partnerships it has developed with wireless operators and handset manufacturers which already offer Google Maps to their customers.
Friend finder versus social network
With the launch of Latitude, competing friend finder applications such as Loopt, Whrrl, WHERE, Brightkite, GyPSii and others will now have some serious competition. Even for the well VC-funded start-up among them, launching in 27 countries and supporting 42 languages on multiple devices is today an unachievable dream.
However, it is important to notice a difference here with Latitude. Indeed, these location-based social networks are more than friend finders because their users can share content: geo-tagged pictures and videos, post-its, reviews, etc… In addition, many of them are open to the big league of web-based social networks such as MySpace and Facebook or blogging platforms such as Twitter. Their users can automatically distribute content and location to their pages across these services.
At the current stage of this market it is difficult to clearly evaluate what users are really looking for among the various services offered by these platforms.