Cellphones know where buddies roam
GPS technology aiding social lives
By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff | December 3, 2006
When Shannon Bullard wants to hang out, she doesn't call her
friends. She uses her phone as a beacon to broadcast a quick text
message about her location: "@ MFA," she reports, when she's not
dancing on Lansdowne Street or relaxing at home in Brookline.
Some people show up, others ping back with their locations, and -- if
a friend of a friend is close by -- Bullard's phone will receive a
message with their photo, name, and a suggestion that they meet.
Within a few minutes, Bullard can instantly pinpoint 25 of her friends
through a form of mobile socializing that is evolving rapidly as GPS
technology becomes standard in more cellphones. A slew of new programs
gives people the option of knowing where their friends are at all
times, helping connections that form in the online world blossom into
new social networks in the real world.
"We're getting more and more invested in these objects we put in our
pockets," said Ted Selker , associate professor in the Media Lab at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who works on developing
social technologies. "The idea of figuring out how to make the
cellphone enhance social engagements is, in some sense, what the phone
Last week, Boost Mobile, a division of Sprint Nextel Corp. , made its
friend-tracking service Boost loopt available to 4 million customers,
and about 40,000 people nationwide have already signed up, according
to the company. Last month, Helio, a joint venture of SK Telecom and
EarthLink , began offering its competing Buddy Beacon function that
also allows users across the country to track the movement of their
friends on cellphone screens.
"Kids these days and their cellphones -- it's crazy," said Jason Uechi
, 38, who cofounded Mologogo , a year-old software program that can be
downloaded onto a GPS-enabled phone. "It's a part of who you are; it's
part of your personality. It's that kind of leap. The cellphone is
usurping the computer."
Mobile phones are beginning to play an expanded role because the
technology is finally in place. To comply with federal 911
requirements, emergency personnel must be able to locate callers.
Many cellphone companies have met this requirement by building GPS
technology, which pinpoints a user's location by using signals from
satellites, directly into the phone.