Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Marauder's Map

Have you ever tried to describe a really cool and obviously useful program to your friends, only to get nothing but blank looks back from them?

I used to grope for words like this while trying to describe Loopt. The official website blurb doesn't help much: "Loopt turns your mobile phone into a social compass".

However, this past weekend a colleague pointed out a perfect metaphor for Loopt: The Marauder's Map from the Harry Potter books. Instead of a parchment map of Hogwarts, you get a tiny Virtual Earth map on your phone, showing the position of you and all of your nearby friends.

Besides outing you and your friends, it also shows nearby restaurants, pharmacies, and things of that ilk.

I could have used Loopt last week at my radiology meeting in Vail. A number of us were going to meet in the lobby for dinner at 6 pm. However, only 2 of us showed up. Although a few phone calls eventually cleared things up, Loopt would have provided a really elegant solution. If all of the other cool kids had already gone to a restaurant, it would have been easy to zoom in on the map and hunt them down.

Something like this would be really, really useful at large or noisy events, particularly where it's not easy or appropriate to take calls. Examples include outdoor music festivals, malls, or sporting events. I'd love to use something like this to filter out the teeming hordes (60,000+) of folks I don't know at the next RSNA meeting and just show the locations of a few friends.

Finally, there are times when you really don't want anyone to know where you are and what you are up to. Rest assured, I made darned sure that there was an off switch before I signed up for my Loopt account.

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