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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.



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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:



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