The Kite is Bright

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This past Friday, I had the good fortune of speaking with the founders of Brightkite, Brady Becker and Martin May. I got the ball rolling by walking through the front door and accusing Brady of being Martin . . . Fortunately things got better from there. Once we sat down, they told me they had just finished an interview with the Wall Street Journal the day before and had also made a TechCrunch post that same day. Pretty good exposure for a company that has only been around since March.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Brightkite, they are a location based mobile social network whose traffic has gone from 2,000 to 170,000 unique visits in three months. Quite a feat when you consider that Loopt, one of the main competitors has only 75,000 unique visits and those numbers can be contributed to their partnership with Apple/iPhone. (List of existing competitors can be found here.) One of the main differentiators is the fact that Brightkite is international. When asked about going international they said it was partly because they could and partly because Martin (not Brady) is originally from Europe. Currently Western Europe has the largest Brightkite user base outside of the US.

I asked them how they made the leap from 2k to 170k in such a short period and they said that they believed it was largely due to their Twitter integration. Their application allows users to place images into their Twitter Stream and in the beginning they were answering user’s questions directly, which took about 50% of their time. As we have seen time and again, this type of transparency can help ignite user loyalty and a willingness to recommend their service. This is especially true of Twitter with its user base being the technologically elite. Some of the initial questions were in regards to privacy, specifically people being able to tell where they were located (aka helping potential stalkers). Twitter allows for this level of transparency and is an issue people have gotten over/will get over.

They also site Get Satisfaction as helping build deep relationships with their users. Get Satisfaction describes themselves in the following way:

Get Satisfaction is a direct connection between people and companies that fosters problem-solving, promotes sharing, and builds up relationships. Thousands of companies use this neutral space to support customers, exchange ideas, and get feedback about their products and services. Get Satisfaction is open, transparent, and free. You’re free to ask, free to answer, and free to start a new conversation. Everyone is invited and encouraged to participate: companies, employees, customers — anyone with an opinion, an answer, or something to say.

When I asked them how they’re going to generate revenue they talked about placing ads in their streams. These ads would be “hyper-local” and therefore more pertinent for the user (and more expensive for advertisers). I would call these ads situational not contextual. The ads would be served up based on profile (where you are and where you have been) and take into consideration time of the day. “If its morning and you’re near a coffee shop and have shown through past behavior that you’re a coffee drinker, a coupon for coffee would be delivered.”

This type of personalized marketing is where marketing is headed and Brightkite’s model makes a freemium model possible. You can watch ads or you can pay to access the service. I think they should offer freemium on a ‘per service’ (each time) feature AND a membership model, giving the user maximum flexibility.

They have found that their users are not necessarily tech savvy and believe the usability of the system and the ease of uploading an image, real-time has made this a compelling offering. They’ve even had requests to remove the location functionality. “Can you please remove the most compelling feature you offer?” I would love to know what that user thought was the most compelling offering.

When I asked them what their favorite feature is they both said Place Snapping. Place snapping is an iPhone feature and is a way for Bright Kite to automatically attach meaningful names to places. The video at the bottom of the screen shows an example (@2:30 into the video). This real time mapping of your location could make for a very cool function when it comes to determining someone’s geographical pattern. You could view your own pattern.

They have been using analytics to determine people’s locational patterns and in the future may offer “Compatibility” services or “Encounter” services. These services would match people up based on their traffic patterns; the system would offer to introduce you to someone you should know. This service is easy to imagine after seeing the same faces in the audience at concerts over the years. I asked them how they get ideas for new features and they said that they simply create what they would like to have.

I think of this as a way of creating many behaviorally focused niche social networks. This type of functionality would make personalized marketing a powerful tool. When I asked them if they thought of themselves in this way, they told me that they considered themselves the ‘Where’ when it comes to social networks; as in where are you right now? They site Facebook as the ‘Who’, thoroughly defining who the user is and Twitter as the ‘What’; what am I doing right now. Martin asked the question “Who’s doing the how?”. This is an excellent question.

In the guise of the where, users will be able to friend a place. This will allow Brightkite to take the fans of that place to the owner of the location (restaurant, book store, etc) and help the owner monetize those friendships through location based services. Couponing is going to be big for the owners of location based services.

We also talked about using QR Codes to allow places and people to become beacons. (You can go here to generate your own and go here to make your cell phone a QR Code reader.) This is an interesting concept and could be an great way of adding data to physical elements àl a Web 3.0.

They are also working on creating a timeline based memory of an event. For instance, there was a small pre-beer festival tasting party and one of the people their invited anyone close to their location to join them. Within a short time the place was packed; creating a flash-mob with a purpose. I want to see them work on a way to gather all of the information created by users surrounding that one event and creating a “shared memory” that others can see. This would be a great way to market events by allowing businesses to share that memory with people they know are interested in attending a future event.

We talked about what I refer to as Conduit Marketing (example contained in link). After talking to them I realize that the base functionality for this type of marketing is location based reminders such as Geominder. All someone would need to do is tweak the marker to talk to others. Brady also, mentioned that it may be cool to not tell them you’ve placed a marker and then let them discover it later. This would be another type of mobile discovery.

I asked about OpenID and they indicated that they will be supporting data portability and are working with OAuth.

In summary I think that Brightkite is going to be a success and I think that they have utilized Twitter in a way that some (not all) companies can and should. I also feel (as does Martin) that the timing for their offering could not be better. “If we had started this five years ago, I doubt it would have been successful.” Martin & Brady are my favorite type of business people; they are living what they are creating. This means that the product will only get better in the coming months. It’s great to see a Denver success story and I’ll continue to follow their progress.

Brightkite also recently did an audio interview and it can be found here.

By Michael Myers

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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