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April 3, 2006 / jnolen


My new phone does all sorts of cool stuff now, like IMAP, AIM and general web-surfing. And I'm happy about all of that. But the feature that I'm happiest about is a simple one: text messaging.

You see, my old phone didn't do SMS. I know, crazy, huh? Everyone at work made fun of me mercilessly for it.

I bought the Sony Ericsson T608 two years ago because it was the only phone Sprint offered at the time that had Bluetooth. Which, as a Mac owner, was very important to me: it was the only way to sync my addressbook with the phone. And Sprint, at the time, was the only provider that had moderately decent coverage at inside apartment. As this was going to be my only phone, it pretty much needed to work inside. Thus Coverage + Bluetooth = No Texting.

It turns out that Sony Ericsson pulled the plug on developing the T608 software before it was actually finished. (Still not sure why, though here’s one extremely unreliable rumor.) But they let Sprint sell the 10,000 or so phones that had been manufactured to that point, incomplete and buggy as they were. The T608 actually worked shockingly well for all that. But SMS was never finished, and there was no more development on the phone’s software, so I just did without.

Fast-forward to the present: I moved to SF where the coverage is much better, Bluetooth is much more common, and I was finally able to buy a new phone. Now that I’ve had it for a bit, text-messaging is definitely my favorite feature. And not just because my friends stopped making fun of me. No, it’s my favorite feature entirely thanks to Dodgeball!

Dodgeball is a kind of notification service that lets you know where your friends are and vice versa. Anytime you want, you can send a ‘check in’ message from your phone. For example: I could text ‘@homestead’ to Dodgeball and it would send a message to all of my friends saying ‘Jonathan’s at Homestead Bar on Folsom and 19th.’ To clarify, here’s Dodgeball’s feature-tour-in-a-single-graphic:

After a few weeks of using this service, I’m completely hooked! On St. Patrick’s Day, I was out with my co-workers at the start of the evening, but I knew I was planning to join some other friends once they got back to the Mission. I was able to track their progress as they bounced around downtown, and when they hopped on the train, and when they eventually landed at a bar in my neighborhood. And as soon as they did, I was able to jump over and meet them.

I had a complete mental map of their night in my head. And they knew exactly where I was as well, without a single obnoxious phone calls made inside a noisy bar. It was really amazing.

Beyond the basic SMS functionality, Dodgeball has added some other cool stuff. You can see a map of where I’ve been. You can get an RSS feed of my checkins. You can use it to find locations. (‘Homestead?’ returns the address in SMS.) They’re trying to build a review engine in as well, but I don’t think that’s gonna fly. Aren’t there enough review sites out there already? They should really just partner up with Yelp (Citysearch being technologically stuck in 1998) and serve those reviews.

During that night out I saw how this service could really change your social life. I imagined a big map of San Francisco in my head, with little moving blips marking the location of all of my friends in town. I imagined the array of choices I will have whenever I want to go out. I imagined a much more fluid social life, where plans happen spontaneously based on who’s in the neighborhood. And I imagined having a little mini-blog of your friends social-lives in real time. For example, I know that Alicia went to the de Young Museum last weekend, which I’ll have to ask her about next time I see her.

So to make all of this work, I just need to get more of my friends to sign up. (Or I suppose I could ditch all my old friends and just hang out with people who use the service, but that seems a little severe.) So sign up, add me as a friend, and check in!

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