Circle: If Highlight And Path Had A Beautiful Ambient Location ChildMay 11, 2012
by Alexis Tsotsis
The people behind college flirting network Likealittle have launched a new app in the App Store, Circle, an app that attempts to be more granular and thoughtful about the burgeoning ambient location space, which includes startups like Highlight, Banjo, Meetup and recent Facebook acquisition Glancee. While Likealittle will continue to run its course, the company will be shifting most of its focus to Circle.
Before Highlight launched at SXSW, I wrote that it needed to allow you to drill down into who could see you on the app, who could message you, and who you could see — Because some people were cool with people being alerted to their whereabouts, but wanted control levels, like being able to limit the functionality to only their friends. While Highlight has yet to add these granular settings,Circle operates exactly on this premise, allowing you to see the people around you if you and they are part of limited shared networks.
To use the app, download it from the app store and sign in with Facebook Connect. Circle pulls your employment and education information from Facebook and automatically adds you to those networks on Circle. Overall the initial interface looks like what would happen if Steve Jobs had designed Google+’ Circles.
On its very sparse and simple landing screen, which asks “Who’s around?” you can see your location, and which Facebook Friends are “around” and also which people in your networks are around — the app will only show you people if they are a part of shared groups like school, work and friends of friends (a setting which you can turn off).
In addition to networks created by Facebook designations, Circle itself has created unique mobile networks for groups like YCombinator, Stanford Alumni, Harley Davidson, Army Veterans, A16Z Founders and even TechCrunch. Eventually the founders tell me that they’ll allow users to build their own networks themselves but users who currently want custom networks can contact the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Users can choose the radius of Circle’s reach, from “around a few steps” to “within the universe.” Like in Highlight you can’t turn the location updates off, but unlike Highlight you can block people, turn off alerts for friends and/or people in your Networks. You can also hide themselves from each individual network, like if you don’t want your former colleagues from your last job to know you’re hanging out in Vegas or something.
People can also message the people they see nearby through the app, and fiddle with those settings as well.
“In actuality, with all of the products from our company, we have focused on the same problem of how to decrease the friction of offline human to human interaction,” said co-founder Evan Reas, “We evolved into Circle as we think it is the best product to solve that. The way we think about Circle is that it creates a ‘virtual bubble’ over everybody’s head in the world and helps you connect with the people nearby that you care about, around the things you care about. Adding that layer of virtual context is the best way to decrease the friction of communication.”
The founders also tell me that they’ve optimized the timing of location pinging in order to not put too much strain on your iPhone battery, “Some of the other challenges of local-social apps are battery and privacy issues and we have solved both by easily letting people choose what they want to share and getting location in a way that does not affect your battery at all, unlike many other apps in this area,” says Reas.
Circle, via Likealittle, has raised a little over $6 million, from investors like Andreesen Horowitz, Michael Arrington, Ashton Kutcher, Mark Pincus, Joshua Schachter, Dan Rosensweig and Lee Linden.
And the app, oddly enough was a labor of love built in India, as the cofounders had to move to India for more than three months during the development cycle, sleeping in the same bed and working on PDT time because two of the cofounders couldn’t get Visas to work from the United States. The entire team is now back in the states (!) all living out of the nerdiest Palo Alto home I’ve ever seen.