Trackle me Elmo

There’s been a great deal of noise about the era of location-based services.  The intensity of the subject – epitomized by issue 17.02 of Wired devoted to the GPS revolution – has been fueled by the iPhone and other smart devices with GPS-ready capability.

Much of the activity has been around helping you get from your present location to your intended destination, a’la Google Maps or keeping track of your friends’ locations and activity status, a’la Google Latitude. Other popular location-based AppStore apps involve locating places to dine, via UrbanSpoon, or locating other service providers from banks to hospitals, via AroundMe.

These are clever and often useful services, but I recently came across a new one called Trackle with a couple of added dimensions worth noting. (You can read a nice intro to Trackle by Josh Lowensohn.)

The first added dimension of note is Trackle’s focus on using and managing alerts, all of which are location-based. If you aren’t hip to alerts yet, you are seriously missing out on one of the web’s more useful features, as they basically provide a way for you find out about anything when it happens, i.e., “I want know about ‘xyz’ when it happens anywhere on the web.”

Well, what Trackle does is enable to you create or select (via a handy pre-developed catalog) a bevy of alerts, that it calls Tracklets, for a variety of purposes. The more popular Tracklets to date generate alerts for things like crime, stocks, home values, and jobs.

The other added dimension of Trackle is how it organizes all of this location-based information into a single inbox. This helps mitigate one of the more annoying problems with all other location-based notification and alert systems: they all tend to act like they are the only ones that exist – very “me” centric.  Trackle puts all of the alerts in a single inbox, which can be sorted and categorized, according to your preferences.

I think it’s interesting to think about how a product like Trackle could be extended. For example, what if Trackle captured a much richer profile of its users; things like:

  • your personal interests
  • schedule availability
  • days of vacation time remaining in the year, and
  • general budget for travel and leisure to your top 5 desired locations

Then, what if it mapped that rich user profile against hotels, events, restaurants, and other attractions? Add the location and schedules of your friends and family, and you’ve got “Travel Agency 2.0.”

Talk to the (Digital) Hand

Take a look through the screen shots below. 

I’ll bet that is a set of companies you’ve never heard of, including:

But, between them, these companies took down $43,500,000 in the first quarter of this year, along a pretty even distribution (the largest was Offerpal, at $15 million).

What do they do? They are among a rapidly growing band of virtual goods companies that are getting some big bets placed on them, in an expectation that they are onto something. CNET blogger Dave Rosenberg provided a nice shout outto these and a handful of others in the sector that is worth a quick read.

Second Lifeis rightly regarded as having pioneered the modern era of virtual goods for grownups at a serious enough level to have attracted substantial corporate interest and experimentation. Close behind, The Simshas added the social,Seinfeld-ian spin to the virtual experience. And while there are clearly many satisfied Sims players and SL corporate success stories, there has been plenty of room to learn and build newer offerings that extend the model.

That’s what these companies like Offerpal Media and Nurien are doing and, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

As Don Tapscott often says in his keynotes about his latest book, Grown Up Digital, the under-25 net generation is a generation “bathed in bits.” Certainly they know the difference between the physical and digital worlds – we all do.  But the beauty of well-done virtual experiences is that they provide for an immersive reinvention or amplification of one’s self.

I believe many of these virtual goods companies are just taking the 2-D platforms of Facebook and LinkedIn and extending them the logical next step into 3-D information and commerce platforms.

Already, Hollywood has shown that it thinks 3-D movies are where the public wants to go. With a virtual, 3-D platform, you won’t just exchange information with your friends and colleagues, but your virtual self will interact with them, negotiate, meet, and conduct business.

It will be very interesting indeed, to see where all of this leads, but I urge you to check out some of these technologies.