SiliconFilter

In a World of Check-Ins and Social Discovery Apps, EchoEcho Keeps it Simple (and Useful)

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Just like last year, this year's edition of SXSW is once again heavily focused on location-based application. While the genre is slowly moving away from check-ins and virtual badges and more towards "social discovery," though, it's still rather debatable how useful apps like Highlight or Glancee are outside of the conference and Silicon Valley bubble. One location app that has long been going against these trends is the Google Venture-funded EchoEcho. The app does one thing – and it does it well: letting you find out where your friends are and making it easy to meet up with them without compromising anybody's privacy.

Just in time for SXSW, the company just rolled out the fourth version of its app (iTunes link), which features a redesigned interface, a mobile web app and the ability to share your location live with a friend for a set period of time (up to 2 hours).

Using the app is as simple as it gets. You just pick a contact from your phone's address book and simply use the app to ask them where they are. Once your contact receives your request and accepts it, you can both see where both of you are (by requesting somebody's location, you also always share your own location). From there, you can use the app to chat and/or suggest a meeting place.

Two major new features in this version make all of this easier (besides the new design, which is much more streamlined that before): live updates that allow you to share your location in the background, so you know how far away your friends are from the meeting place and a new web app that allows your friends to share their location with you without having to install the app themselves (instead of a push notification from the app, your friends will simply get an SMS with a link to the web app).

Just like previous version of the app, the EchoEcho team continuous to ensure that it's available on all the major mobile platforms, including iOS, Android (these have been updated to 4.0 already), as well as Blackberry, Windows Phone and Symbian (I'm not sure the Symbian app will get an update, though).



3:52 pm


Google Venture-Funded EchoEcho Wants to Help You Find Your Friends

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When it comes to location-based services, check-in apps like FourSquare and Gowalla are probably the ones that have gotten the most attention in recent months. For the most part, though, the usefulness of these apps is still not quite clear. After all, there has to be more to location than discounts, virtual badges and mayorships. One service that has been trying to bring some much-needed attention to actually helping users solve a real-world problem through your phone’s built-in location features is EchoEcho. The service, available for iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry and (soon) Windows Phone, wants to make it easier for you to find and meet up with your friends. EchoEcho does so without forcing you to sign up for yet another social network (it just uses your existing address book) and its inherent usefulness means it doesn’t have to resort to “gamification” to get you to use it.

ios_accept discussI have been following EchoEcho since its earliest releases in 2010 and it’s been quite fun watching the bootstrapped company grow and slowly gain traction. Today, EchoEcho is launching the latest version of its apps and announcing a $750k seed financing round from Google Ventures and the UK-based venture firm PROfounders Capital.

As the company’s co-founder and CEO Nick Bicanic told me earlier this week, the team focused on making the sign-up process as easy as possible. Most mobile apps expect you to confirm your phone number by typing it into the phone and then copying a security code from an SMS you receive from the service to verify your identity. EchoEcho takes the opposite route and simply sends an SMS from your phone to its servers, thereby reducing the chance of data entry errors and making the sign-up process as easy as pressing “send.”

Features

ios_inboxThis latest version of EchoEcho, which is really the company’s first major public release, now also includes a built-in chat feature and an even easier to use user interface. One nifty new addition to the app is a mobile web-based client that allows users who don’t have the app installed yet to exchange their position with existing users who ping them. The app now also features a places database that covers almost every country in the world. To do so, the company is working with multiple vendors (including SimpleGeo, Foursquare and Google) and then dedupes the data on the fly.

Keeping it Simple

One thing that always attracted me to EchoEcho was the fact that it was easy to use and focused on doing one thing right: figuring out where your friends are and making it easy to meet up with them. Instead of randomly checking in and hoping that one of your friends will see it, the service simply lets you ping your friend, share your location (and get that of your friends’ as well) and decide on a place to meet – all with just a few clicks.

The service also puts a premium on privacy. You can’t see somebody else’s location, for example, without sharing your own as well.

Coming Soon: Groups

With all this focus on simplicity, though, there are still a few features I would like to see in the app. What’s missing right now, for example, is the ability to meet up with a group of people. Bicanic, however, told me that this feature is coming. The team also plans to add some real-time tracking functionality to the app, though what this will look like still remains to be seen.



11:30 am


Echoecho 2.0 Makes Meeting Up With Your Friends as Easy as Five Clicks

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Echoecho is one of the most useful location-based apps on the market today. When you hear the word “location-based app,” chances are you are thinking about services like Foursquare and Gowalla. While these can be fun, their utility is rather limited (unless you really feel the need to collect virtual badges). Echoecho, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to solve a simple problem: finding out where your friends are.

While most of today’s location-based services were designed around the idea of the check-in, Echoecho takes a very different approach and allows to ask your friends where they are.

imageThe service offers free native apps for the iPhone (iTunes link), as well as Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Blackberry devices. The latest update is currently only available for iOS and Android, though. The app falls back to SMS if your friends don’t have the app installed, so you can even use it if your friends haven’t installed it yet.

Echoecho doesn’t force you to join yet another social network. Instead, it simply uses your existing contacts on your phone.

Where are you?

Here is the problem Echoecho solves: Say you want to meet up with a friend in the city, but you don’t know exactly where he is. Today, you would probably send a few SMS messages back and forth to slowly triangulate where you both are and to decide what a convenient place to meet up would be. With Echoecho, you simply send a ping, get an answer, propose a meeting location and head there – all within a minute or two and with just a few clicks.

Where should we meet?

imageThe latest versions of the service’s iPhone and Android apps just arrived in their respective app stores. This new version takes the original concept of finding out where your friends are one step further. The app now also allows you to find, suggest and confirm meeting places with just a few clicks. While ensuring your privacy is at the heart of the service, the new version also allows you enable automatic replies for your best friends, spouses or children, so that the app will automatically tell them where you are.

If you want to discuss the meeting place in more depth, Echoecho currently still falls back to using text messages, but one of the next updates will move these discussions to a text chat in the app itself.

One minor limitation of the app is that it currently only revolves around one-on-one meetings. There is currently no way to easily use the app to poll a group of people about their locations and organize meetings.

Version 2.0 of the app now also sports a slick redesigned interface. In my first review, I praised the app for its simplicity and thankfully this has not changed, even as the team added more features.

To fully understand the power of this concept, you really have to see the app in action. Echoecho co-founder Nick Bicanic demoed the update at the Launch conference last month:



9:30 am


5 Services that Deserved More Attention in 2010

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As the year draws to an end, it’s hard not to look back and think about all the cool apps that I looked at over the last 12 months. I’ll talk a bit about my favorite apps and biggest disappointments in other posts, but I also wanted to highlight some of the coolest apps and Web Services that I use all the time but that didn’t get a lot of mainstream (or even tech blog) coverage in the last year and that deserve another look.

Without further ado, here is my list for 2010:

My6Sense

my6sense logo

Building good recommendation engines is tough. In the world of reading recommendations for RSS feeds, nothing currently beats My6Sense. The app – available for iPhone and Android – also works as a straightforward RSS reader, but the real power is in its reading recommendations which learn from your behavior as you use the app (did you click on the story? Did you recommend it to others? How much time did you spend reading it?). The great thing about the app is that you don’t have to start over – you can just import all your Google Reader Over on ReadWriteWeb, we rated it as one of the top 10 RSS and syndication services of 2010, but overall, My6Sense has been flying under the radar for too long. Hopefully, with the addition of Louis Gray as the VP of marketing, My6Sense will get more visibility in 2011.

Producteev

producteev logo

Over the last year, I tested far more productivity and task management apps than I’m willing to admit, but the one that stood out for me – mostly thanks to its simplicity and ease of use – was Producteev. I currently use the service for my own task management needs, is large parts thanks to its integration with Google Apps, but also because of its full suite of other services, including its iPhone app, Gmail gadget and the ability to create tasks by simply sending an email to the right address. For the near future, Producteev also promises to release a Mac desktop app, which should make it a great choice for GTD disciples on the Mac.

Pearltrees

Pearltrees logo

“Curation” was the biggest buzzword of late 2010, yet while various Twitter-based services like Curated.by got a lot of buzz this year – and even link shortener Bit.ly now offers a curation feature – Paris-based Pearltrees remained relatively unknown. While the service now has plenty of money in the bank and has over 60,000 active users, its innovative interface and easy to use social curation features didn’t get near the buzz it deserved (though it’s worth noting that some people really don’t like the service’s interface). With even more social features and the ability to import all the links you share on Twitter, Pearltrees’ feature set made great strides this year. Hopefully, it’ll get a bit more buzz next year, as using it gets more fun the more people join in.

Microsoft Office Web Apps

Office Web Apps.jpg

I admit, this is an odd choice given the size of the Microsoft Office empire, but at least in the tech blogging world, most people tend to underestimate Microsoft’s products and prefer to push Google’s offering instead. In this case, the new Microsoft Office Web apps are far ahead of Google’s offerings and offer (no surprise) better compatibility and – and this is the biggest reason for me – better document fidelity. When I export a file to Google Docs, I never quite know what will happen to it when I export it again. With the Office Web Apps, the documents – with few exceptions – remain perfectly intact as I move them in and out of the Web apps.

EchoEcho

EchoEcho.jpg

With all the focus on check-in apps like FourSquare and Gowalla this year (though this hype has died down quite a bit by now), location apps with real utility remained a bit under the radar this year. Among those location-based apps that are actually useful (beyond collecting boy scout-style badges), EchoEcho is one of my perennial favorites. Available on virtually every platform, EchoEcho allows you to quickly and privately exchange your location with a contact. It’s simple, works and oh so useful. For more background, see my ReadWriteWeb review of the EchoEcho iPhone app from early 2010.



7:00 am