What will Facebook do with Glancee?

Over the weekend Facebook bought another mobile social app, this time a product called Glancee. One of the leading apps in a very new category known as “ambient location,” Glancee and its main competitorHighlight were the most talked about apps at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference in March. Highlight won the popularity contest amongst mobile phone toting hipsters at SXSW and it now has the most users of the two. However, as I discovered when I interviewed Glancee co-founder Andrea Vaccari at SXSWGlancee’s technology is superior – at least on the backend. And that is almost certainly what Facebook was after: Glancee’s technology and talent.

Facebook bought Instagram last month for $1 billion in cash and stock. But Instagram had 35 million users and was growing fast. Glancee is not on that level (and neither is Highlight).

So Facebook clearly didn’t buy Glancee because it viewed the company as a potential threat, which was the main reason for buying Instagram. This Glancee acquisition is more about technology and talent.

What Glancee Does & How It’s Different To Foursquare

Glancee is a smartphone app that tells you when people with similar interests are in the same location as you. It’s different to Foursquare, which is about “checking in” to a place. Glancee doesn’t check you in. Instead it monitors your location in the background, using GPS signals, and alerts you to interesting people nearby.

In a nutshell, Foursquare is about places and Glancee is about the people in those places.

So how does Glancee know which people nearby might interest you? It does this by connecting to Facebook and Twitter and mining the interest data on those networks (such as the things you have “liked” on Facebook and the topics you discuss on Twitter). It’s a complex app and hard to get right. Both Glancee and Highlight were plagued with technical issues at SXSW, in particular battery life drain in phones due to heavy GPS usage.

Ideas on How Facebook Will Use Glancee

Facebook doesn’t have a great track record with mobile location. Facebook Places, its attempt to mimic Foursquare’s check-in functionality, was launched   in August 2010. However just a year later, Places was “phased out.” Four months later, Facebook acquired check in app Gowalla – another product that had benefited from SXSW hype. What’s more, like Glancee, Gowalla was a clear second to its main competitor (in this case, Foursquare). Facebook shut Gowalla down before the year was out and nothing has been heard from it since.

Would Facebook shutter Glancee too and make use of the technology in a new mobile location product?   A  very smart acquisition by Facebook anyhow which can help Facebook unlock compelling new ways to network on mobile phones.

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