July 23, 2024
MWC: Swayy app lets you share your future location with close friends, or groups you curate

Given that this week Instagram revealed that it was developing a “Friend Map” feature, it was interesting and timely to run into a startup during Mobile World Congress that plans to go beyond even that. Swayy is an iPhone app startup that allows you to share not your current location, but your next intended location. That could be either in a couple of hours in the future, or even weeks or months away.

So why on earth would anyone want to do that?

Well, as founder Daneh Westropp told me, the advantage is that instead of having to “constantly coordinate with your friends via text or phone calls, the app lets your followers know where you’ll be next and allows them to figure out if they can sort of ‘serendipitously co-locate’ with you.”

You can also publish your future location to groups which you curate. That could be just one or two members of your family, a specific set of friends, a group of work colleagues or just the wider public at large, or rather, anyone who’s also on the app (because Swayy doesn’t have a public-web version the whole internet can access).

Again, I asked, why even bother? People coordinate via text messages and shared calendars these days. So what’s the point?

“Swayy allows for more spontaneous outings and creates chance encounters,” claimed Westropp, who previously worked on a dating startup. “You have total control over who can see your future location.”

“Say I want people to know I’ll be in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. I publish it to Swayy, specify what part of the city I’ll be in mostly, and then my friends can passively see that I’ll be in town. It’s much more fun and exciting to have the possibility of more ‘happy coincidences.’ It could create more spontaneity in life,” she said. She added that right now the app is about getting users on board, ahead of building out some kind of business model, such as advertising venues to meet in.

Sway post

A Swayy post. Image Credits: Mike Butcher

Whether or not you think that’s the case, it’s clear the app has a chicken-and-egg problem. Without more users it can’t create the spontaneity it promises. I managed to coax a few friends onto the app to kick the tires on it, but they were all in London, so my efforts to create chance encounters in Barcelona were pretty limited.

That said, if I could get more friends onto it, and some sort of critical mass, and they did likewise, perhaps we’d all get more chance encounters by sharing where we’d be next? The app generates a sort of news feed of where my friends are going to be in the future, not where they are now, and this is far more useful if I wanted to re-route to their rough location and grab that “usually-hard-to-organize-random-drink.”

In other words, Swayy is an app ideally suited to people in large cities where there’s a critical mass of users who wouldn’t mind bumping into each other more often, for work or play. As Instagram is surely bound to find out, knowing where my friends are right now isn’t really that useful. Because wherever they are, they’d usually have to stay put long enough to allow time for me to get to them, or vice versa. And there’s no obvious “invitation to join.” On Swayy, you can be explicit about whether you’d like others to co-locate with you, or not.

I also liked the way the Swayy app allows me to create custom groups. This gets around the problem of privacy. The ability to publish my next location to just, say, one or two users, or maybe five, or maybe 10 (and upwards), is far better than being either super private or super public.

As Westropp pointed out, as a female founder, she’s acutely aware that being able to control precisely who can see her future location is something she hard-wired into the app.

Furthermore, when a user publishes a “Sway” others in their network can “join” it (if they can “see” the post), and a group chat can be set up for all the people “Swayying” to that location, explained Westropp. A user is also reminded to confirm they are, actually, on their way to where they said they’d be.

Of course, Swayy is likely to struggle against the tech giants already toying with location as a feature. As we found out this week, Instagram’s Friend Map would be more or less a copy of a popular feature from Snapchat and the “Find My” feature on Apple devices. It will also be an opportunity for Instagram to appeal to people who were fans of Zenly, a social map app that Snap acquired and then shut down in 2022.

However, according to the screenshots posted so far, Instagram’s Friend Map would only be visible to a “Close Friends” list or no one at all. It’s very much a blunt on or off switch.

Swayy’s ability to create far more curated lists of users could be its most useful, and privacy-preserving, feature.

Read more about MWC 2024 on TechCrunch

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