Swirl has announced the release of
Swirl Connect, a mobile application that keeps you close - very close - with your friends while on the go or at your desktop. In short, Swirl Connect lets you add a network of friends and see where they are, what they are doing, where they have been and where they are going next. You can also send instant messages and follow your friends' recent activities, including photos that have been taken by them. All of this is achieved from mobile-to-mobile, mobile-to-PC, PC-to-PC or PC-to-mobile. Location is determined by placemarks - areas added by users and displayed on a map. Placemarks also contain placenotes, informing the user of popularity statistics, notes about the location and photos. There are plenty of ways to customize, including setting up a member profile and following the activities of only certain friends, even certain age groups or gender.
From the website:
While you're on the move, Swirl Connect will keep your location and presence updated (only on properly equipped phones), alerting you to nearby places and things according to your settings. You can also "Explore," and Swirl will show you people within proximity. So if you have a properly equipped phone, it appears that your friends will know where you are. All the time.
And once you explore and find people that you can locate - or stalk, if you prefer - you can obtain their profile, photo and guestbook. And then there's this:
During an active connection, you can chat as you would in an instant messenger, send vibrations to other person's phone, and send sounds.
Send vibrations and sounds? That's odd.
The big question here is obviously privacy. What if you don't want to be found? The simple answer is to not sign up for the service. But if all the cool kids are doing it and you think it might be fun, here are some FAQ answers from the website about how Swirl finds you:
Location: How do you locate me / how can you tell where I am?
Note: we respect your privacy and safety. This information is only used how you want it to be used, and by whom you want to use it. Location information is only available to your friends, and only when you permit it.
Explicit location, a.k.a. onboard support: If your phone supports the Location API, your carrier supports positioning, and your settings permit us to do so, we can locate you based on your distance from cell phone towers.
Trusted location, a.k.a. shared support: We can also determine your position in relation to another device's known position. For example, if you make a connection to a Swirl Hotspot device, we know that you're near that Hotspot. If you make a connection to someone whose phone supports explicit location, we know that your locations are similar.
Referential location: We can also make inferences based on recent explicit and trusted locations, as well as manual locations.
Manual: The simplest of them all. We know where you are because you tell us.
My location: can someone use Swirl to find out where I am?
Only your friends can find out where you are, and you need to explicitly grant permission to Swirl members in order for them to be added as friends. Swirl is unlike a social networking site in that with Swirl, you want to maintain a small list of your close friends, rather than a lengthy list of long-distance acquaintances.
There are other opportunities for non-friends to see where you are, e.g. if someone checks into a placemark you're also visiting, they will see your username as a current visitor. But no one is able to "track" you.
So there you have it. It sounds like if you don't want to be found, you should stay away from this. But it's also very exciting technology, one of those things that makes the world just a little bit smaller and could bring people closer together. There's plenty more to the service and loads of information on their website. Your best bet is to take the tour.