Dodgeball founder pegs Google in the face with Foursquare

Each year, around the time of the SXSW festival people start wondering out loud what the “next Twitter” will be. You see, the quickly spreading micro-messaging service really got its start at the Austin,Texas-based festival two years ago, and has been growing ever since. Of course, last year’s Twitter was, well, Twitter. But this year there may be another service that catches on — if it can get approval in Apple’s App Store.

The service, called Foursquare, may be very familiar to you if you used the service Dodgeball in the past. Dodgeball, was an early location-based social service made popular among the tech elite in the San Francisco Bay Area, that Google bought in 2005. By 2007, its founders became fed up with Google’s neglect of the service they had created and left the company with middle-fingers wagging.

Now, one of those founders, Dennis Crowley, is back with Foursquare. I’ve been testing it out in closed beta for the past week, and I’m happy to report that it’s solid, and has the potential to be addicting.

As I said, it’s very similar to Dodgeball, but with a few key differences. The first is that it has a nice web UI. Dodgeball was mainly used via text-messaging — remember, it was made before smartphones with nice graphics — and so, the web interface didn’t matter much for the service. But now, the mobile web has changed, and so has Crowley’s apparent approach towards it. Not only does the site look nice on a desktop or notebook web browser, its mobile web page looks pretty nice as well.

That said, text messaging is still the preferred means to interact with the service. If you’ve used Dodgeball in the past, you’ll know the syntax, but for Twitter users is may be a little complicated. You see, to “check-in” at a location, you use an “@” symbol, then a space, then the name of the location. If you want to leave a message, after the name of the place, you put in a “!” symbol, followed by a space, then your message.

The “@” is not used to reply to someone as it is on Twitter. And Twitter never intended that to become the standard — the users came up with that — because really it makes no sense. You’re not “at” someone, you’re “at” a place, which is how Dodgeball/Foursquare use it.

The second big difference-maker for Foursquare will be an iPhone application. That’s why I noted that this service could be a surprise hit at SXSW if the app is approved in time. The app is currently waiting for approval, and that could happen “literally any minute,” Crowley tells me. Of course, it has already been rejected by Apple once, because it apparently contained something that Apple didn’t like. Crowley has since corrected and re-submitted.

(As we all know by now, Apple can be pretty picky when it comes to App Store approvals.)

A third difference involves the feature side of the service. While both Foursquare and Dodgeball are about checking in places, Foursquare adds a bit more of a social element by incorporating two features called “Top 12″ and “To Do.” Basically, Top 12 allows each users to list their 12 favorite things to do at various places around their home city. To Do allows users to save items from other users’ Top 12 lists to make sure they do them later. When you do them, you can check them off on the site.

Foursquare keeps track of all of this information, and gives you awards based on doing tasks like completing To Do items, and checking in places. That element is what could lead to this service being a viral hit. And the fact that it’s not trying to displace Twitter, but rather utilize it to help you spread the word about what you’re doing, should definitely help as well.

The reason why this service could be big at SXSW is that first of all, all of the tech early adopters will be there. Many of them used and loved Dodgeball up until Google officially killed it last week. Another reason is that like Dodgeball, Foursquare is based around cities, and yes, Austin is one of them (as is San Francisco, New York and other hot spots).

Let’s say I go somewhere in Austin next week and I want to see who else is at the same place. Sure, I could do a Twitter search, but Foursquare can be set up to automatically ping you when a person you are following checks in somewhere. And with the iPhone app (again, if approved), it will be even easier to see which of your friends are around you and to check in places with the use of GPS.

With the moves Google is attempting to make in becoming more social — especially its recent emphasis on location-based social aspects with services like Latitude — it was never really clear why Google bought Dodgeball only to let it die. You’d think it could have been a great centerpiece of Android, instead, it became yet another neglected Google acquisition.

Crowley asked that I not use any screenshots of the service until the iPhone app goes live, and it officially launches. As I said, this should be any second now depending on how picky Apple is going to be.

I hope to see some of you in Austin on Foursquare.

UpdateThe Foursquare iPhone app just became available tonight. I have been using it a bit, seems very solid.

Google integrates Dodgeball, but you still have say where you are

Google has started asking users of its mobile social networking site, Dodgeball, to start using a Google account sign-on, Web designer Chris Messina noticed.

Dodgeball, you’ll recall, is the company that lets you send friends a text message telling them which bar or restaurant you are crashing, so you can meet up if they are close.

However, that’s a lot of hassle — to message Google with your whereabouts every time you move, only to have Google make your presence known to your friends. And then when those friends move, you get blasted with yet another SMS (and knowing Google, it’ll probably be filled with ads soon).

This is what Dodgeball’s homepage tells you, below:

But why not let your friends know where you are automatically, without having to email Google? Indeed, that’s what Palo Alto start-up Loopt lets you do. Granted, you have to sign up with Sprint/Nextel’s Boost provider, but that carrier relationship gives Loopt your location automatically — so that it can show your friends where you are with a simple pin on a map — without you going through the hassle of letting them know. And if you want to hide from them, it lets you do that too. And if your friends move to another bar, you don’t get spammed every time.

Indeed, Loopt has a nice little answer to Dodgeball, on its Web site.

Chris sounded a little miffed about the Dodgeball password change, suggesting he was being shanghaied into Google’s universe of other services. At least there are alternatives.

Google buys Dodgeball

Dodgeball logo

Well, what started as a service for interactive mobile social networks grew up a lot today; that’s right, Dodgeball, the little project that could borne of NYU’s ITP program got bought by Google today for an undisclosed sum of money (we’ll just assume they’ll be able to pay off those student loans). For those of you who don’t remember Dodgeball, they were started as a service wherein a registered phone can “check-in”, and anyone in your registered circle of friends (or their friends as well) in the area will be notified of your proximity (and vice versa), so you can, you know, do lunch or whatever people do. It pretty much goes without saying that this is just begging for use with Google maps mobile and Google local (why do they keep building technology to make it easier to get out of the office and have a social life, anyway?), not to mention the obligatory Orkut integration we’re likely to see.

Now quick Dodgeball guys, cash out now and live like kings in the Balkans forever!

The Dodgeball circle expands

dodgeball

Yep, along with all of your friends, you signed up for Dodgeball, the new service for cellphones mentioned a few weeks back that can tell you which of your friends are within a ten block radius of where you are (“it’s like Friendster for cellphones!”).

Then you got bored of it and stopped using it almost immediately. But, guess what now Dodgeball is expanding its original environs and is available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Philadelphia, but as is the hallmark of any hot trend, once it leaves New York and hits the provinces, it’s all over! NOT.

Like Friendster for your cellphone

It’s like Friendster all over again: we’re being barraged by requests to add people to our Dodgeball friends list. Anyway, Dodgeball is a new service which can tell you which of your friends are within a ten block radius of where you are. Once you’ve signed up and registered your cellphone number with them, you can “check-in” by sending a text message to Dodgeball with your location (it only works in NYC, Boston, LA, Philadelphia, and San Francisco right now, which is already two more cities than we’re likely to be in anytime soon), and then if anyone on your friends list (starting to sound familiar?) has also checked-in and is within range, you both get a text message.

 

UPDATE: Dennis Crowley, Mr. Dodgeball himself, writes in that right now the beta only works in NYC, and that when you “check-in” not only do your friends get a text message of your whereabouts, but your friends’ friends do as well.