Why I’m giving up on brightkite (for now)

A common simple approach to identifying a user’s location is to give them a text box, and ask them to type in where they are.

It’s not that easy, as I was reminded last night.

I’ve been using brightkite for some time now – a web service for sharing your location.

The mobile site m.brightkite.com lets you update your location from your phone.

I tried updating my location last night from Southampton Airport Parkway train station while waiting for my train home from Open Hack London.

I typed “Southampton Airport Parkway”.

When brightkite isn’t sure where you mean, it offers a list to choose from.

If it thinks it knows where you mean, it shows that one alone.

Brightkite decided that I meant…

Partido Judicial de Pamplona.

In Spain.

Erm… not quite.

So I tried something else.

Maybe if I added “Eastleigh”, it’d help clarify what I meant.

I typed in “Southampton Airport Parkway, Eastleigh”.

Not much better.

This time it decided that I meant “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.

Really? Where did it get that from either “Southampton” or “Eastleigh”?

Okay, I thought maybe the “Parkway” bit was too obscure for it, so I just went for “Southampton Airport”.

I wasn’t in the airport, but I was close enough that this would do.

And surely this wouldnt be too ambiguous?

Apparently it can be.

Brightkite decided that I must be in South Africa.

This was getting ridiculous.

After a few tries, I found a query string that showed where I was.

And that’s a crucial point – it should be pointed out that Southampton Airport Parkway Railway Station was in the Brightkite database.

I didn’t add it or create it as a Brightkite place. It was there already, but just not being returned by my searches.

Don’t get me wrong – I am well aware how difficult it is to do this right. This was fresh in my mind after Open Hack where I went to a talk on GeoPlanet – Yahoo’s service for identifying locations.

After playing with it while developing my hack, I was impressed. It seems to work very well.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard people talk about the challenges of identifying locations from user-entered text. This was the topic of a very entertaining talk “The tyranny of the box” at Geomob a couple of months ago.

So as a technologist, I have a lot of sympathy, and am well aware of the challenges involved in parsing descriptions of places.

But as a user, it’s just too much hassle. Last night wasn’t the first time I’ve bumped into this problem using brightkite. For now, I think I’ll leave it until their service handles UK place names a little better. šŸ™

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3 Responses to “Why I’m giving up on brightkite (for now)”

  1. Robert Woodside says:

    Check out Centrl, they are on iPhone, BB + Android, pretty cool LBSN – http://centrl.com

  2. Otto says:

    The place search does leave a lot to be desired, but that’s because they’re probably focusing on other goals. Geolocation is a bit of a hot topic right now, with a lot of ways to do it.

    With mobile devices more and more often containing GPS and WiFi, these are starting to be used in combination to identify exactly where you are from the various sources of data available.

    I used BrightKite on the iPhone the other day, and it not only found me instantly, without the usual GPS delay, but it knew the name of the business I was in. That’s when I realized that I had connected to their WiFi and was thus easily locatable based on that alone.

  3. dale says:

    Otto – Thanks for the reply. I can see your point that they must have a lot of work to do, but even allowing for this, their search is shocking.

    Their mobile apps are great though, you’re right. I’ve been playing with the Android one on my G1, and it is very good.