Sam Altman is co-founder and CEO of the Loopt social media network. Loopt is at the nexus of two of the hottest topics in social media – geolocation and location-based applications. Social Times asked Altman about Loopt, how it compares with its competitors and what might be coming up next.
The list of mobile location-based social networks has grown. How does Loopt see its place in the location-based universe?
The location-based space is on fire right now. We’re just now starting to see the kinds of activity we envisioned when we started Loopt in 2006, and Loopt’s activity rates have been consistently increasing.
With our core Loopt app, the capability to find and connect with friends sets it apart from the others. With background location sharing on smartphones, this has become an amazingly popular feature. We don’t just stream a list of places people have checked in, but we show a friend’s current location (if they have turned that on). We alert users when friends are physically nearby, and we allow people to find and discover cool places and events around them. With Loopt, people can see their social plans unfold on the map in front of them. It’s the social media that truly allows you to get social in person.
With Loopt Star, we have differentiated our game by focusing on “real world” rewards for people who check in. So instead of just rewarding the person who checks in the most with a gift or a digital badge, we allow any person who checks in to get real discounts and goods. We can reward hundreds and thousands of people, not just one person, and we utilize a variety of redemption methods for that reward (coupons, codes, emails, etc.).
We’re tightly integrating both Loopt and our newest app, Loopt Star, with Twitter and Facebook. Loopt Star, our rewards app that launched this summer, is built 100% on Facebook Connect. You don’t have to build a new friend network. All your Facebook friends are already there.
We’ve already gone on the record stating our plan to integrate more deeply into the Facebook Places data set. Having a huge amount of geo-social data available to us to provide interesting insights to our users is a huge opportunity and offers us a chance to add value and innovate in areas that Facebook encourages on top of its social graph and data set.
Twitter and Facebook have both launched their geolocation functionalities. How do you see Loopt “interleaving” with the platforms of these established and (so far) non-competing social networking giants? Or maybe you don’t see that happening.
It’s all been really energizing. The promise of location services is predicated on an abundance of alluring geo-tagged data. The location party has a lot more room for attendees that can bring real, useful information. More data is better for all of us. Facebook and Twitter are both important social layers for the web and could bring a new level of ubiquity and data to location services.
We’re aggressively working with Facebook’s Places API to make our product stronger; our most recent product, Loopt Star, was 100% built on Facebook Connect. We’ve long seen the potential in bringing location to a greater community, and we respect the lifeblood both Facebook and Twitter will be able to pump into the location services space. Loopt can offer a lot to these social-media giants — we were the first in the location space, and have been diligent about staying ahead of the curve and paying very close attention to users’ privacy at every turn.
The data Facebook will bring to us is a huge opportunity, giving us a chance to add value and innovate on top of Facebook’s social graph and data set.
This is a space that never stops changing. We’re still learning, and Facebook and Twitter will have much to learn as well. Our goal moving foward is to have the absolute best geo-based mobile application experience feeding into Facebook or Twitter.
Do you have a good crystal ball that shows what advances in geolocation and location-based applications will offer users as new benefits, features and ways of participating in their social networks?
I have something better than a crystal ball. I’ve got a very shiny screen on my smartphone showing a clear picture of still-unlocked potential. Naturally, the increasing number of smartphones, smarter GPS chip sets, and faster and better networks will all help geo-location services. You’ll simply be able to do more on the move. Everyday, more people completely rely on their smartphone as their computer; we’ll be able to offer them services targeted to where they and their friends are, right now in the world.
In a not-so-distant future, there are going to be incredible new ways of monetizing a user’s presence, beyond just hyper-targeted, local banner ads. With advances in location technologies, people will be able to learn about what’s going on by querying the geo-social content layer that overlays their person’s physical location. The utility of these apps are going to become much more relevant.
The opportunity in the location space is huge, and now is the time to decide what the future looks like. Loopt will most certainly be a major contributor to that picture we see in our location-services crystal ball.