WordPress Plugin: WP-Brightkite

Some of you have noticed that I’ve been doing some experimentation in recent months with geolocation. Geolocation is a very powerful aspect of the next generation web. Particularly in the mobile space.

Boulder, CO-based Brightkite stormed on the scene a few months back as a location based micro blogging network. Members could take photos from the cellphones, send short messages to be posted to the service, and follow their friends. Based on the concept of location, Brightkite users could “check in” to a location. I am currently checked in at “Woodlawn, Maryland”, a fairly generic location since I value my privacy in my home. However, people can check-in down to specific addresses, cafés, places of employment, etc.

Though my fascination with Brightkite as a mobile microcontent network has faded, their is one aspect to it that I find extremely valuable in the absence of GPS on my Blackberry and the lack of ownership of an iPhone 3G. That is their KML file.

I set about creating a plugin that would parse the KML file of the most recent Brightkite check in location. Thus, WP-Brightkite was born.

Notably, for those folks interested in the geotagging content, the Brightkite plugin will parse latitude and longitude of the most recent checkin and geotag feeds using the ICBM RSS namespace. For a little extra bling, I’ve provided a template tag which drops a little Google Map next to the subject line of posts with geotagging (see this post, for instance).

  1. Upload the

    directory to

  2. Activate the plugin through the ‘Plugins’ menu in WordPress
  3. Fill out Brightkite user data on your profile page. Note: Standard WP permissions apply.
  4. Use the

    within your template to print a mini 10×10 map icon, clickable for Google Maps location.

There’s quite a bit more I want to do with this, but since I’ve been using it here on Technosailor.com for a few months, I wanted to get it into the wild and fix any bugs (thus the beta tag) before exploring more functionality.

Let me know what you think, and consider a donation.

Update: Please log a ticket here if you are having difficulties. You must login with your WordPress Support Forums username and password (here) to get new ticket creation options. The comment system I have here does not seem to be sending people notices of followups on support requests.

When logging a ticket, please tell me what version of PHP you are using and what version of WordPress you are using. Thanks.

How Has Social Software Changed Your Life?

This is an open comments style post, so I want your comments.

The thing about my “beat”, as they’d call it in the newspaper business, is that I’m not really all that interested in “the news”. I’m not trying to cover all the stories, nor am I trying to cover most of them. I’m not trying to “break” anything or peddle products. I want to understand how social software affects my life. And yours.

Text comments will be deleted in this thread as I want video comments. ;) Click on the Sessmic Video comments link below. If you don’t already have one, grab a free account over at Seesmic.com.

This is what I want to know. How has social software benefited you? This is open ended and I want you to define what I mean by this. Some example questions might be:

  1. How you got a job using LinkedIn
  2. How you found an old crush on Facebook
  3. How blogging helped you gain support for a good cause
  4. How you used Flickr to communicate to your family on the other side of the world
  5. How you used Brightkite to track your migration habits
  6. How Twitter made the World Series special for you
  7. How you had a brilliant entrepreneurial idea from a discussion on FriendFeed
  8. How you used VC portfolio companies to attract the attention of a VC and get funded
  9. How you made a career by offering advice on a blog

These are easy examples. I want you to offer your own insight on how, sometime, somewhere, social tools have enhanced your life. Tell us your story on video. If you don’t, I’ll look like a complete idiot for this format – but I’m okay with that. :)

A Manifesto for Mobile and Location Based Social Networks

Mobile is hot. Untethering from computers is the next generation of the web and I’ve said it for awhile.

FindWhere CEO Jaap Groot and my friend and DoC co-host Geoff Livingston have co-authored a white paper (they call it a manifesto) for mobile and location-based social networks outlining eight requirements for a successful mobile endeavor.

The true local, mobile and social breakthrough requires a completely converged product that will be so intuitive and robust that community members won’t have to wrestle with such a service. Instead, it will be so easy and fun, online community members will clamor to be a part of the craze. They will actively engage, and voluntarily spread the word about their experiences, in hopes that their friends will join them online. The winning service will be so compelling that it will be viral.

They go on to describe the eight factors:

  1. Provide a base offering free of charge. Today’s social network user does not tolerate paid-for services.
  2. Work on a wide selection of phones.
  3. Offer an intelligent, simple user interface for accessing information.
  4. Use GPS rather than force users to manually enter their location every time.
  5. Integrate intelligently into existing social networks rather than further inundate people with a new one.
  6. Allow users to share and use their location data in as many ways as possible.
  7. Enable individuals to set various levels of privacy control for personal security.
  8. Monetize in an intelligent, non-intrusive way

Some of these factors are implemented better than others and some are not technically possible with the mobile client and telcos the way they exist now. Things need to change within the four walls of the carriers.

Twitter Brightkite Facebook Mobile
Free Yes Yes Yes
Phone Support Yes Partial Some
Mobile/iPhone Interface Partial Yes Partial
GPS Compatible* No No No
Existing SocNet Integration Partial Yes No
Location Data easy for Users to Use Yes No Yes No
Privacy/Security Controls Yes Yes Yes
Low Impact Monetization No No Yes
*GPS is carrier-sketchy. Verizon Wireless, for instance, disables in phones

As with all white papers, it is a call to action. A spotlight on gaps in the industry. One day, all of these items will be inherent in the social offerings but it could take 5-10 years to see that occur.

Effective Presence Marketing in Social Media

“Presence Marketing” is a term that is being tossed around a lot more these days. Early Adopters (who remember, are useless) have known this for quite a bit now, and increasingly, we’re seeing later adopters catch that wave and jump on.

Presence Marketing is the recognition and exposure that a person or company gets simply by being there. Where is there? It is simply anywhere that people are.

In traditional advertising, it might be product placement in your favorite television show. An example of this is how Agent McGee uses the iPhone throughout NCIS. (It is unclear if this is actual Apple marketing or not – but any publicity is good publicity, in this case). Another example was the use of Cisco VoIP phones or Dell computers at CTU in 24.

In the online sense, it is nearly identical, but manifested differently. By being active on blogs, social networks or any other format that places a high dividend on visibility, companys and brands are engaging in Presence Marketing.

As an individual, you have more ability to be seen and engaged as any major brand anywhere in the world. In fact, due to Twitter, it is demonstrated repeatedly that simply being present and active on Twitter can create more brand recognition and marketing capital for individuals than companies engaging in the same space and not being “as present”.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about my friend Shashi Bellamkonda, who works for Network Solutions. NetSol, while they have a brand of their own and Shashi is providing tremendous credibility to their efforts, have a long way to go to eclipse, say, Chris Brogan, who has so much brand capital that we just call him The Broganâ„¢.

In another day, or another age, this would not be possible because traditional marketing skews toward those who have money, time or historical depth.

With Twitter, or Brightkite, for instance, little to no effort is required to be present and “seen”. An application like Twhirl can sit in the background and alert you only when there is a tweet requiring your attention. This allows for a small footprint on your time and personal bandwidth, yet provides an easy way to spend time engaging throughout the day or evening. You exist, you engage, you benefit – with little to no impact on the rest of your day. Brightkite and Twitter both can be used over text message, so you can be present throughout the day, even when out and about.

My point is this – companies can complain all day long about the investment of time that goes into using some of these tools. However, I just don’t buy it. As an individual, and someone who has developed a significant personal brand of my own, it is all about being present. If people see you – a lot – they are going to be more comfortable with you and comfortable with what you’re selling, doing or engaging in.

It is the lowest of the low hanging fruit in the marketing industry. Do you do it?

Brightkite: Blazing New Paths in Microcontent

Picture 7.pngA few weeks ago, I received an invite to Brightkite so I signed up, being the early adopter that I am. What I saw instantly resonated with me.

Before I get into the technical and usability “stuff” let me explain the resonance I had. first there was Twitter which blazed onto the scene with the concept of microblogging in 140 characters or less. Twitter challenged the status quo by being so simplistic that anyone could use it. The beauty of twitter was hidden to the average user, and is still largely missed by people who haven’t used it. The beauty was in the API which allowed people to utilize Twitter from their cell phones (over text message), via desktop clients, and allowed developers to create cool mashups such as Summize (a search tool for Twitter) or Politweets which monitors Twitter for candidate mentions and displays the timeline in a relevant way. In other words, Twitter’s simplicity was the greatest strength for “selling” itself to the masses.

What Twitter didn’t do was provide context to the flow. It is difficult to track conversations. It is difficult to send tweets to only a select group of people.

Leah CulverThis is where Pownce showed promise. Pownce took the concept of Twitter and made it contextual. Groups were possible, so I could have “real life friends”, “internet friends”, or “PR bloggers”, for instance. Pownce added the ability to post images or mp3’s so I could share media with my friends. However, until recently, Pownce had no API and the API they do have now is too little, too late. There was no SMS integration so I couldn’t text my comments in while I was sitting in traffic on I-95. I was glued to a website, when I had other things to do, as opposed to having a client that just sat there in the background polling the service and letting me know when there was something important to read. Pownce has the high distinguishment of having the hottest developer, Leah Culver though, so that counts for something.

Brightkite has come along, and though in very early beta, they are building their service around making the service as accessible and easy to use for anyone. Therefore, the simplest of all APIs is text messaging, which Brightkite uses perfectly. The hitch here is a telco hitch. Verizon Wireless, according to Brightkite, cannot support Brightkite because the short code used for interacting, 80289, has not yet been approved by the carrier. Apparently, Verizon is building parental controls for their service to allow parents to restrict access to specific shortcodes and so are not approving anymore codes until that functionality is built. Those of us on Verizon continue to suffer.

However, mobile phone users (including Verizon Wireless) can interact with the service over email as well. Each user account is assigned a unique email address.

In addition to the limitations I’ve already listed, Brightkite is currently a US-only service. So Canadian and other non-US users have to use the email address route.

Brightkite operates primarily around a “Where are you now?” premise – which is different than Twitter which asks “What are you doing now?” Therefore, a primary action within the service is the “check in”. Check ins allow users to say “I’m at Starbucks in Columbia, MD” or “I am at Latitude and Longitude x and y” (think application development in the future with GPS integration on, say, an iPhone or Blackberry).

A lot of early adopters have complained some about the privacy issue here, and indeed it can be an issue. Largely, the specifics of where a person is is controlled by the user. For instance, a check in could be as specific as sending a message “@ 6490 Dobbin Center Way, Columbia, MD” or as generic as “@ Woodlawn, MD”. I use this tactic, for instance, when I check in. I will not give away exact location when I’m at home for privacy and protection reasons. However, when I’m out and about, I will almost always check in with an exact location.

In addition to these privacy options, users have the ability to set their “timeline” as public or private, similar to Twitter. By checking a “Trust User X” box when accepting friendship requests, you can designate with granularity who you want to see your posts, locations, etc.

Brightkite still has a long way to go. Some hurdles that need to be addressed are “threading” of conversations. Pownce does this well. Additionally, it’s a little difficult to respond to users.

I’d encourage a mirroring of the Twitter API. In other words “D user message” should send a private message to the user. “follow user” should send a friend request to the user being followed. “track terms” should give me the ability to see whenever anyone, regardless of friend status, mentions my tracked terms or phrases.

In addition, I’m concerned about the fact that the service is built on Rails. Twitter is the poster child for a bad Rails app, and history shows that, optimized to the extreme, Rails still doesn’t scale well.

Brightkite does provide the ability to cross post to Twitter and gives the user options for what, if anything, actually gets crossposted. However, the biggest complaint I hear from Twitter users is the Brightkite URL appended to every crossposted message. This is bad form, and subtracts from the same 140 character limitation that Twitter enforces.

Largely, I think Brightkite could be a killer app. It does everything that Twitter does well and expands on it by taking some of the better features from other services. But Brightkite is not really about being a “me too” service as much as it is about solving the problem of location. I see the possibility of a mashup service, or a partnership, with activity based companies like WhyGoSolo (no inside knowledge of whether these two are actually seeing this as well).

As a bonus, and if you’ve read this far, I have 10 Brightkite invites to give away for the first 10 commenters requesting one.

Leah Culver Photo courtesy of Tantek, Used under Creative Commons