textingBy Aliza Sherman

Last month, I began thinking about location-aware apps such as Sonar and Highlight. Whenever I travel outside of Alaska, they “come to life” with push notifications telling me when someone I know or someone who knows someone I know is physically nearby. These apps use the GPS in my iPhone and integration with my key social networks to connect the dots between me and other people.

Sonar seems to pull mostly from Foursquare check-ins. When I checked in recently to my hotel in Napa, within minutes I was notified that someone I know – in this case Paul Mabry from Vintank – had checked in at a restaurant a few blocks away. Suddenly, I was torn. My first instinct was to post a comment on his Foursquare check-in to say hello.
Then I thought “What will Paul think?” Knowing him, he would have probably gotten a kick out of it, but then visions of being perceived as a stalker filled my head, and I thought I’d better not say anything. Mostly because I didn’t want to seem intrusive, or creepy, it was a missed opportunity to connect with an interesting person in my industry.
While in Napa, Highlight kept pinging me, letting me know about people who were within blocks of me – all people whom I did not know personally but who knew some of my connections or were interested in similar things like mobile apps and travel. At any moment, I could have messaged these strangers to say hello, but again held back because of my own fears about seeming creepy. If someone did the same to me, I’m not sure how I’d feel about it unless our mutual connection was someone whom I knew very well and trusted implicitly.
Maybe my hesitation is a female thing – a safety defense mechanism. I couldn’t decide if these location-aware apps were helping me in any way, particularly with my own internal concerns.
And then Sonar did something great…

A few days later, I was in San Francisco and Sonar pinged me again. This time, it was telling me that my friend, Sue Black, was nearby. Wait, what? Sue is based in the United Kingdom and I hadn’t seen her since we were at a conference together a year or two ago. We had met in 1998 in Brussels at a Woman in Science conference. Was she really right around the corner from me? I wondered.

So I messaged her and she was literally around the corner from my hotel, attending a conference in the same city, at the exact moment that I was there for a 24 hour period.

Sonar pinged, I messaged, my friend responded and then we met in person for the evening. Suddenly, location aware apps seemed absolutely awesome!

I’m still on the fence about when Highlight or Sonar are useful or appropriate. The example above is off-the-charts-useful to me – to be made aware of when people whom I personally know and care about are nearby, particularly when we are both in cities where neither of us live. These location aware apps can create a serendipity of proximity, teasing out those moments when your path is almost crossing with that of someone you know, but without the apps you may never have known.

Aliza Sherman is a web pioneer, digital marketing strategist and author of the new book Social Media Engagement for Dummies. Her website is AlizaSherman.com.

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