LocalSocial: The Difference Between Proximity and Location

Sean O’Sullivan is the Co-Founder and CEO of Rococo. The original vision of the company was to make it easier for developers to stitch proximity function into their apps. Sean and his colleagues noticed that the Application Programming Interface (API) of every Bluetooth stack (the way protocols that communicate with each other are sometimes organised for convenience) was completely proprietary. They figured that they could create value by creating a common and consistent API using the Java language.

As well as helping the work on the technical standard — JSR-82 — for connecting Bluetooth with Java, Rococo provided a set of tools that enabled developers to develop apps that would enable them to take greater advantage of Bluetooth. In addition they licensed their own implementation of that standard to the mobile phone handset manufacturers.

As of June 2010 Rococo’s technology was deployed on over a 180 million handsets worldwide.

However, the advent of smartphones has produced new challenges. For the most part they do not use the JSR-82 standard. In response to these changes in the mobile landscape Rococo have developed a product using their own proximity platform called LocalSocial.

How did the changes in the market lead to the deveopment of LocalSocial?

“It led us to broaden our field of view to offer a proximity platform that could work with Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi and other short-range wireless technologies. “

“We’re dealing with proximity. We are all about making it easy to detect if you are near a person, a business or a device of interest. Near, in our world means anything from two feet to thirty or forty feet.

“Location is a well-served part of the market at the moment. Engineering on mobile handsets is incredibly well-serviced. The core functionality of figuring out where you are is done by a combination of GPS, cell ID and reverse WiFi lookup.

“Our technology is independent of whether you are inside or outside of cellular or GPS coverage. We are also neutral to wireless technology. This means we can stitch in support for new and more exotic short range wireless technologies as and when they get jammed into cell-phones

“Because we are interested interested in proximity we use any short range wireless technology that does “proximity” well. Bluetooth is excellent because it is installed in all smartphone and more than half of all the rest of the world’s mobile phones.”

What is the difference between Local Social and Foursquare?

“Foursquare is really two things — an app and a platform. We are really much more a platform. We don’t necessarily have a bell weather app as yet that shows off the platform.

“One things that we do have in common with Foursquare is that we also believe that we can monetize the interactions between businesses and people as part of what the platform can do.

“What’s different is that we start off by saying, “Here’s LocalSocial, it’s a platform.” Third party developers can register, build apps that use the platform and stitch proximity functionality into their apps much easier then they could do otherwise. We are actually promoting the platform to developers.”

Why would anybody want a proximity device? What would be the use of it?

“For handset manufacturers smartphones have been taken a lot of the action over the last couple of years but social networking technology has also been driving a lot of innovation on those platforms.

“Mobile apps have been a huge driver in user activity and user acquisition for the social network sites. In one of our demos we show what happens when you have Linkedin working with proximity.

“One of the things you can do is share your information (you control the amount) with people that are nearby. Conversely you can browse the Linkedin information of those same people.

“This can mean you can search for someone in the room who is interested in social media or interested in Bluetooth or whatever.

“The core that makes LocalSocial tick is that with your permission we store information about your Bluetooth MAC address – your unique Bluetooth address contained in the chip on your phone – online. We let you associate other information with that and decide how that might be shared with people that are physically near to you.

“We have profiles that contain versions of you social network settings. For example if you are in what you might call work mode you only share your linkedin information. If you are in say, party mode, you can share your Last.fm information for example.

“Person to business is the area that we have had the most interest to date. There seems to be some good evidence of demand for these sort of interactions.”

4 thoughts on “LocalSocial: The Difference Between Proximity and Location

  1. Hi Tom, Hi Sean,sorry I do not understand.How is proximity different from location? If I know, where I am I also know, what I am close to, right? And what is localSocial doing that I can’t get from other “location-aware” platforms out there?Regards … Roland


  2. Hi Roland -So : location and proximity are of course related – they’re like first cousins :-)If I know the location of those things of interest, I can derive / calculate the distance between then, and therefore figure out their proximity.And vice versa, if a bunch of devices are physically close to each other, and are connected in some way, I only need to know the location of one device in order to make some good guesses about the location of them all.So there’s a relationship between location and proximity. However, LocalSocial focuses primarily on Proximity : what’s near to this device or person right now, regardless of where I am? It’s a question of having a different emphasis. Whereas most location services concentrate initially on figuring out WHERE you are, we concentrate on WHAT’S near. Can I “see” (via Bluetooth, or WiFi, or NFC) any devices nearby? If so – do I know anything about those devices?It turns out that this proximity functionality is really useful in a variety of scenarios, and can be very complementary to what’s already well-served by location services. Lets take two examples:a) a person to person exampleb) and person to business exampleIn (a), for example, we might imagine a group of people in a coffee shop, with idle time on their hands. We have a simple app called Dowser, that lets you share one or more of your social networks / identities with other people nearby using Dowser, and also lets you browse their social “streams”. So while I drink my coffee, I can run dowser and “proximity browser” the social information of people nearby – see their twitter stream, or their LinkedIn Profile for example. It’s a curiosity thing – a logical extension if you like of the behaviour where people set heir friendly name in Bluetooth today to be “Sean’s Phone”, or “JLS rock!” – a way to express yourself and share a little bit about yourself with anyone interested nearby. It’s classic proximity – as opposed to location. it works the same on the bus, in the classroom, in the coffee shop, or at work. And it’s about the folks who are within say, 20-30 feet of me.For (b) – let’s take a person to business example. We think a great application for LocalSocial is to enable relevant offers / services from a business to potential customers nearby. Some services do this today using location (PlaceCast, for example). With LocalSocial, we can offer an alternate approach to hyperlocal offers or ads, and give both the customer and business greater control over what happens and when. One of the social networks we support in LocalSocial is Last.fm (music service). I’d like to be able to walk in to, say, HMV or Tower Records, and have them access my Last.fm profile (which is public) and based on that profile, tempt me with offers for stuff I actually might like! You can see how other businesses – from coffee shops, to convenience stores to malls, could also benefit from proximity to trigger activity between them and their existing or potential customers.Anyway – sorry for being so long winded! Hope that helps somewhat!! :-)Sean


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