A week or so ago I got the opportunity to have a chat with echo echo’s Nick Bicanic. Looking to solve the problem of “where are you?” echoecho is a nifty tool that not only answers that question, but provides a platform to answer the inevitable follow up of “where should we go?” I asked Nick what he thought about the location based services industry, where its going and he had some interesting thoughts. Below are just some excerpts from our chat.
Matt McDonald: “Whats your take on location right now?”
Nick Bicanic: “I think the problem is not being solved properly. Smartphones are fairly smart about finding their own location - but communicating that location to your friends is still too complex - so it’s still too difficult for friends to connect.”
MM: “What are some of the challenges the space is facing?”
NB: “I think there are a lot of challenges. First, we look to derive the use case from wanting to find someone, not wanting to be found. That’s the problem with real-time tracking – privacy, permission and preference. At echoecho we define the problem first – “where are you” – and then look to build a solution to address the problem. Second, communication and asymmetric social networks are hard. The signal to noise ratios are very low. Close tie social network communications are hard to do in a feature rich way. One of the problems to address is to solve a key component of close tie communication. Solve for things that people actually care about…so where are you and what are you doing versus what you watched last night.”
MM: “And what about monetization? How will these solutions turn into a business model?
NB: “Good question and ultimately we’ll take the answer from users. Yes, you can find my friend, but now I want to meet. There are multiple options for geo-social utility solutions that can turn into a viable business model. We’re not 100% which one to choose, but they are certainly there. The trick is to determine which one will not disrupt the user experience.”
After Nick and I chatted, I gave echoecho a spin. The first problem the app had is common – I had to find someone to use it with. On probably the 10th try, I was able to get my friend Oren here in New York to download the app. Locating each other was easy – echoecho does a great job at having a simplistic and clean interface that lets friends know where they are. Since each session is separate, it also prevents the feeling of being stalked – you only give away your location that one time, a smart way to tackle the question of privacy. Oren and I spotted our locations and then, with the meeting function, echoecho offered up suggestions for places to meet for coffee, drinks or food. Certainly a promising idea.
After using the app for a little while, I stopped and let it marinate. Will people use this? Do I see this going somewhere? Will this move LBS-based apps forward? After giving it some thought I definitely see the potential in echoecho as a utility tool. Nick certainly did one thing – echoecho clearly defines a problem (“where are you”) and looks to solve it. However – at least now – I’m not sure that solution is compelling enough to warrant the switching costs outside the LBS obsessed (and that might not be a bad thing). The majority of the time it just takes a few texts to get a satisfactory response for that question. Lets think of a few segments – you’re meeting a group of people, you’re meeting a close friend or loved one, you’re meeting a friend you see infrequently, you’re meeting an acquaintance or you’re meeting someone for the first time. Then lets look at the three situations that echoecho covers – coffee, drinks and food. Now we want to measure this against something – why would any of this information be necessary anyway? Well, for a few reasons. First – time. Its helpful to know if someone is running late or is far away, so that you can measure your own time effectively. This is particularly important for when you need to wait for the other person (or people) in order to do something – like getting a table at a restaurant for example. Second – choosing a location. One way I see a good use for echoecho is to actually have the app open during a phone call. You could see where each other are on a map and then find locations equidistant from each other, or at least provide a helpful visual to complement the inevitable back and forth of indecisiveness. Anytime where the location is in question, echoecho is certainly helpful. Third – centralized conversation. One annoying thing about meeting up is the fact that you have to text the person, go on yelp, find a place that looks good, text the person back, wait for a response, etc. etc. It’d be much easier to just do everything over one centralized platform. With echoecho you can do that. The chat feature is great and facilitates conversation while you’re looking at a map on where to go. While the meeting function needs some fleshing out and more filters (because frankly, there are 10 different coffee shops on the same block) it’s a great start.
A chart analyzing all that would give some direction as to the utility for all of those groups. And how do you fill that out? Well, the users will –which is precisely why the app as is works just fine. Its going to have the biggest appeal to LBS/early adopter types, which will funnel good nuggets of information on the utility at each of the above permutations. That, in turn, should give the echoecho team enough data to figure out how to best build out the app for the masses, which seems to be their plan, as the masses will ultimately drive monetization. As Nick said, communication and asymmetric social networks are hard to do in a feature rich way. Right now, echoecho is fairly basic, but it is sophisticated and different enough so that its initial users can drive what those “rich” features would then look like in the future.
Echoecho has a clear function and value add, which is certainly among the reasons it got attention from Google (echoecho is Google Ventures backed). As the app evolves and matures, it will certainly help usher in a new series of apps that have a real value to people, moving location based services along. Will be fun to see it play out.