Most location-based mobile social applications have lost their way. This summer foursquare redesigned its service, de-emphasizing its signature location check-ins to focus on personalized recommendations and user interactions. Foursquare rivals like Gowalla, Loopt and Brightkite have checked out completely. Glympse is an exception to the trend, although it's always followed its own path. Instead of building a user experience dependent on check-ins, badges and broadcasting updates to the world at large, Glympse introduced streamlined, one-click capabilities enabling users to privately update friends, family and colleagues on their whereabouts and activities in real-time, for as long (or short) a period as they wish.
Three years after Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) veterans Bryan Trussel and Steve Miller first launched Glympse, downloads of the free app now top the 3.5 million mark. And while many of its competitors have pivoted or petered out, Glympse continues to move forward. In June, the Seattle-based startup inked an agreement with Mercedes-Benz to integrate real-time Glympse location sharing into the automaker's in-vehicle Digital DriveStyle application. Earlier this month, Glympse also unveiled revamped versions its apps for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, bolstered by new features like Glympse Groups (enabling users interacting in common activities like sporting events, meetings or social gatherings to map and track each others' locations for a specified window of time), Calendar Integration (allowing users to automatically schedule location updates for everyone associated with a specific event) and Requests (which lets users automatically broadcast their whereabouts to trusted contacts who ask for updates).
FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny spoke to Trussel, Glympse's CEO, about the app's longevity, its latest enhancements and the importance of keeping it simple.
Bryan Trussel on Glympse's origins: Microsoft was a fantastic place to be. I liked working on cutting-edge technology, and I really liked working on consumer technology. I loved working on something built to get into people's hands. Working on Xbox reaffirmed that.
When I left Microsoft, everyone thought I was going to start a gaming company. They all said 'We know that's what you're going to do.' But my partner Steve and I thought that the mobile and location market was wide open--there were no entrenched technologies or companies, and we knew GPS was becoming more popular. But when we went out to get angel money, investors couldn't see any opportunity beyond companies like Loopt and foursquare. They thought location was already done--they viewed the opportunity so narrowly, but we saw a huge opportunity there.
We started experimenting with different ideas, like geo-tagging photos. At that time cameras weren't embedded in every phone, so we started working on a program that would map your location throughout your day, then merge that information with photos you take using the kind of camera you bought at Best Buy. So we wrote that, and when we started playing around with it, we had our 'A-ha!' moment--once your phone knows your real location, what else can you do? We started focusing on the things that happen on a daily basis, like getting stuck in traffic--people want to know 'Where are you,?' and we realized we could answer that question. We wanted to address things that happen multiple times each day.
Trussel on Glympse's longevity: At a high level, we've never abandoned our focus on the use case. We're tackling issues that existed before mobile phones, and issues that will still be around 10 years from now. We've stayed laser-focused on absolute simplicity--we've never added bells and whistles.
Users can cap the amount of time information is visible to others.
We've also focused on the privacy angle. We never wanted anyone to think twice about using our service. We don't make you sign up or log in, and we don't need a complex privacy statement. A lot of people are not comfortable broadcasting information to the world, but they want to their wife, kids or friends to know where they are. It's time-based location sharing, and people just get it.
Trussel on Glympse's new features: When we were originally building the app, we asked ourselves 'What is our roadmap and what is our competition?' We never felt like foursquare, Loopt and Brightkite were our competition--there was such a small percentage of the market using those things. Our real competition is the phone call and the text message. Those things are well defined. Phone calls aren't too different now from what they were in 1992. So we built an app where you can more quickly send a Glympse than you can make a phone call or send a text message.
We've had a lot of success with Glympses being shared from one person to another person, but when we look at customer feedback and requests, we have a lot of users saying when they share their location with someone, they want to know where [the other person is], too. So we added that into the app--now you can pick a contact and send a request for them to share their location with you. 'Bryan would like to know where you are for the next 15 minutes. Yes or no?' We made it into a reflex. You've got to do that to get broad-based adoption.
Sometimes people want to share Glympses as a group--maybe you're running a marathon, or it's a night out in Vegas, or you're with your family at Disneyland. You want to know where other people are or if they're on their way. With Glympses Groups, anyone who wants to join can enter 'bang' and the group name to see the other members' locations on a map for whatever time limit you say.
We think the use case for that is massive. You're never again going 'Is Bob coming out tonight?' or 'Is the team getting together?' You look at the map, and you're done. The app just launched and already we have a hang-gliding group in the U.K. telling us that they're using Glympse Groups to coordinate where they land and where people can come pick them up. Last night, my family and I went to a 20-acre corn maze, and everyone could broadcast where they were. You would never build an app to facilitate communication inside corn mazes, but when you add up all these different scenarios, the value grows.
Glympse measures speed to show an ETA.
Trussel on expanding Glympse into the enterprise market: We launched this to be a consumer app, but these same concepts can revolutionize the enterprise side, too. I firmly believe you need to focus on the consumer side first--it's easier to go from that base into the enterprise. But the enterprise is not this monolithic ivory tower on a hill anymore. Apps like Pandora get integrated into set-top boxes and cars because consumers are bleeding that into enterprise.
With our Microsoft origins, we focused heavily on building a robust platform. We always knew other verticals could build on this platform, and when Mercedes-Benz contacted us, we knew we'd built this thing correctly from the beginning. We've had an onslaught of enterprise folks who want to use Glympse as offering to their consumers. It's a beautiful fit--when you're in your car, you're always going to meet someone or to pick them up. It involves mobility by definition. So with Glympse in your dashboard, those people automatically know where you are. It's such a clean experience and another example of location bleeding into the fabric of life.
We didn't start this company saying 'We're going to design a great don't-text-while-you-drive solution,' but with our philosophy to keep it simple, we just slide right in there. That's why people value Glympse. It's simple, it's perfect for what people want to do, and it provides a huge safety factor.
Trussel on Glympse's future: We launched Glympse as a free app, and it will continue to be free. But there is a lot of interest in the platform and a lot of value. For now, we're not concentrating on revenue--we're more interested in building brand awareness. You will see us monetize, but it likely will come from third-parties, not consumers.
We're cautiously looking at which partners offer the biggest bang for the buck. I definitely see more happening in the automotive sector, or in the delivery segment, like service guys coming to your house. There are a lot of opportunities for partnerships in those areas, as well as partnerships with carriers and handset OEMs. I think  is going to be our biggest year yet.
We've always been bullish on this space--as you get into it and look at all the different opportunities for location services, you realize that failure or success isn't about having nowhere to go. It's about which of these opportunities you select, and whether or not you execute.
Users can request to see a friend's location, too.
Trussel's advice for aspiring mobile developers: The base principle is focus--you've got to really finesse and fine-tune the customer experience. The biggest change over the last 50 years is that people demand excellence and simplicity. They want to be able to understand your app in 15 seconds and start using it in 30 seconds, or else they're going to move on to the next thing. There are more apps coming out than the consumer will ever be able to look at, so to be successful, an app has to be cool and useful, and it has to be better than anything else they might be doing.
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