Two weeks with BrightKite

For a little more than two weeks, I have been investigating BrightKite, a new website that brings location and photos to Twitter.

Now onto my experience. After receiving my private invitation to the service, signing up with BrightKite was simple.

Finding Friends

With any social network application, the overall experience gets better as more friends participate. BrightKite is no exception. Fortunately, they have developed a tool to discover existing friends from your Twitter network. During the private beta, you have a limited number of email invitations available for sharing. (Let me know in the comments if you are interested in trying it out as I have a few extra invitations available.)

Searching for Locations

Searching for locations was quite easy as you can put in an address or a business name in your search. Once you find a location, you can add it to your “Placemarks” for easy recall. In my testing, I found that searching was very good and I was always able to locate the business or address without any problems.

Posting Photos

Posting photos is seriously simple. If you are online, you can upload a photo a create a caption through the web interface. Since BrightKite is about being mobile, posting a photo is just a matter of emailing the photo from your phone to a special email address at BrightKite. The subject of your email becomes the photo caption and the photo is posted to the place where you are currently located. That said, it would be nice if they included a quick instruction about the subject line becoming the caption for the attached photo.

Mobile Interface

BrightKite has a very nice iPhone interface. For this reason, I didn’t use the SMS capabilities for updating my location with BrightKite. I found the iPhone interface very responsive and very nicely designed. It wasn’t an afterthought, rather it was clearly designed to include the bulk of the functionality that you would want when you are on the go.

Scientific Findings

The downside of the service is that it is new. It will obviously get better as more users join the party. You can totally tell that some people are posting the equivalent of “Hello World” while others are posting constantly. Over time, the novelty will wear off and posts will be more interesting.

One thing that BrightKite made perfectly clear: I have a boring social life. Basically, I go to work and I go home. Yes, there were a couple of times where I actually went out and I posted my location to BrightKite and posted a photo or two. But for the most part, I wasn’t the party animal that BrightKite is targeting.

If you own a restaurant or a night club or other venue, you should be on BrightKite. Take pictures and post with captions to BrightKite even if you never move. When a user gets near your location, BrightKite lets users know that you (or your venue) are close by and your “Placestream” becomes a marketing message for you.

Suggestion Box

It would be nice if you could selectively post to Twitter. Right now it is all or nothing. Perhaps a checkbox for the online posting form or a tag (#notweet) in the email message to prevent a Twitter posting.

When looking for people nearby, you should be able to expand your radius out more since the service still needs more users. The current limits with the current user base basically let me know that I’m the only one around.

Privacy options should be more flexible, perhaps allowing you to specify placemarks (specifically home) where you want to be private compared to a restaurant where you want people to find you. Seriously, I don’t want to share my home address and related posts with everyone, but if I’m at a chic restaurant, I want everyone possible to find me there.

Trust by user is a nice feature, but with a lot of users, could become difficult to manage a long list of friends. Perhaps BrightKite could allow you to group your followers so that when someone starts following you, you can put them into one of several groups.

Final Thoughts

BrightKite shows serious promise as a web application. It does what it sets out to do quite well. Clearly the target is a younger demographic that has an actual night life. Clearly, if you are not a fan of Twitter, BrightKite will not turn you into a microblogger overnight.

But will I keep using it? After two weeks of use, I think that I might post to it occasionally if I have a great photo or funny quote. I like the fact that it is focused on locations, text quotes and pictures. Its strength is this focus. I can see restaurants using it to promote themselves by encouraging users to post great stuff at the restaurant.