Unless you've been living in complete unawareness, you'll know that apps that help you find people based on your real-time location are all the rage at SXSW Interactive this year. Glancee, one of the more popular choices, is an app that's been around for far longer than some others, and absolutely deserves credit for it. But is this the location-based app you want in your arsenal? We met with Andrea Vaccari, CEO of Glancee, to get a sense of the app's value proposition and get a demonstration of some of its more salient features.
But first, here's a rundown on how Glancee works: The app integrates with your Facebook account and pre-populates several details within its profile, like your bio and interests. Then, after the fact, you can go in and tweak these details about yourself so you can get a more accurate match with the people around you. For instance, something you liked on Facebook years ago might not be one of your passionate interests anymore.
On the tab called Radar, the app displays a list of your best matches, sorted by distance. It doesn't show you the exact location of the people around you, just an approximation. The next tab, Diary, shows you a list of the "most interesting" people you've come across throughout your day. Glancee dives into Wikipedia's deep database to establish associations among the interests between two people, even if they aren't exact matches. For example, someone who likes "The Economist" could conceivably get along with someone who likes "The Paris Review" since these are similar publications, despite not being exactly the same. The idea is that these similar interests can become possible topics for conversation, helping you reach out to a stranger. Once you've selected the profile of a person you're interested in connecting with, you can immediately start chatting within the app.
We asked Andrea Vaccari, founder and CEO of Glancee, about the inspiration behind creating the app and how he envisions the direction of the project going forward.
Q: What's the story behind Glancee? How long has the app been around?
A: Glancee is actually one of the older apps in the market with this functionality. We've been around since June, we launched 8 months ago, and we've actually been working on our product for about a year and a half. We never tried to promote ourselves other than letting other people know by word of mouth. In fact, I hadn't even planned to come to SXSW this year. But as it was getting closer to the date of the conference, I started receiving messages and requests to do interviews, so I decided at the last minute to make the trip.
We started getting more attention after a February article on TechCrunch. Another app, Highlight, had been getting a lot of coverage and buzz, and at the time I thought to myself, "Well, Glancee does something really similar!" and I started reaching out more aggressively to the publication. To his credit, Eric Eldon — an editor with the site — immediately recognized the sameness between the apps, and profiled Glancee. Afterward, the attention has been almost nonstop. Our user base grew ten times since that article.
Q: How is Glancee different from similar location-based apps?
A: I believe Glancee has a more elegant design. The fact that we don't disclose a user's exact location is a big thing, too. I believe location should be a signal, not a trigger. So we don't show you as a moving dot on a map—that's something Glancee will never do.
We thought it was more important to give people the opportunity to reach out and talk to each other, without giving away everything about themselves. The app does integrate with Facebook for now, but it's more for border control—to make sure people have verified identities on the app—and to let them fill out a profile quicker. Afterwards, people can go in and curate their interests within Glancee.
Q: What is the philosophy and aim of Glancee as a service?
A: The point is to meet people. Everyone somehow wants to make a connection with their neighbor, but it's often hard to bring that value into real-world interaction. Glancee puts the tools at your disposal to take advantage of information and help you meet someone.
It's all about bringing together the best of your physical and digital life. Our online lives are so detached to what we do in the real world, so Glancee aims to bridge that gap—to bring whatever you care about online into the real world.
Q: Other apps say they don't want to be "yet another social network you have to join." Is there any reason why Glancee decided to go against that thinking to be a standalone app?
A: I see the value in how the other apps decided that when they built their network, but I think it's a little misguided. At Glancee, we did create our own ecosystem, but our choice had to do with something very important to users: intention. Other apps integrate with your other social networks and serve up information about other users from these networks, but who's to say they actually wanted others to know about them in that way? Who knows if they even want to be approached?
With Glancee, our users are those who want to be a part of it. It signals to others, "I'm here, I'm willing to meet someone using this app."
Q: How about the issue of taxing your battery? How does Glancee deal with that?
A: We've dealt with the battery issue in a special way. We actually built our own algorithm for location detection, so that when the app detects you've been at one spot for a long time, it slows down the frequency of pings to the server. When you're on the move, Glancee will typically update every two minutes; but once it's detected that you've stopped moving, it slows down the frequency of updates to 4 minutes, then 8 minutes, and so on and so forth up to every hour. And of course, you can pause the app from seeing where you are in case you don't want to be visible in certain sensitive situations—if you're in the hospital, for instance—and then you can choose when to come back.
Q: What is the intention of the app? Is it to meet people for business, friendship, a romantic relationship?
A: It's not necessarily one specific type of app. It's not a dating app, not necessarily a networking app—although it can be used for both purposes. Primarily, it exists to help you meet people—it tries to be as open as possible in terms of how it can be utilized, like Twitter.
In fact, if you think about Twitter, it wasn't clear what its use would be until more people got on the network. Today, it's used for multiple things—as an RSS feed replacement to get the news, to promote a brand, for instantly communicating with a friend, etc. We want to be as open as that and see what kinds of uses emerge. Our only goal is to help people meet each other; whatever it is that they meet about, we don't care.
Q: Some apps turn up at SXSW with a huge splash, but they don't necessarily do well with the mainstream public afterward. Does Glancee have a strategy to make sure this doesn't happen at the end of the conference?
A: Yes, we're aware that we're in a sort of bubble here at SXSW, since it's an area where there's such a high concentration of people with similar interests. But we're comfortable with what's been happening. I think in general, it's the space that's far from becoming mainstream—it'll take a while for location-based apps to become compelling to the typical user.
In terms of a specific strategy, we don't necessarily have one for Glancee, but we're hoping that the echo from Southby will be strong enough to reach some new users. Apart from that, we're being patient. You know, we've spent $0 in marketing. We just think that if we make a good product, people will use it.
The tech has just gotten sophisticated enough for social discovery in particular, but it will take awhile for social norms to catch up. Take Facebook, which used to be such a foreign concept. People didn't want to make profiles because they were afraid others might use information that they posted about themselves publicly in terrible ways. Now, it's commonplace.
There's a saying in marketing that goes, "Don't try to change users' behaviors; work for them." We think that Glancee is doing this, but in a slightly modified way. We're working for our users, but we're also pushing the boundaries. And in time, we're confident that we'll see adoption increase.