The Life Graph: You Are Your Location

There’s a lot of attention being focused on location-based services and mobile social networks right now, and for good reason. These applications represent the future of social media. They’re expanding our circle of friends online and offline. They’re changing how we meet people. They’re affecting where we go and why. They’re forging important connections between our online networks and real life.

In short, while most technology isolates us behind computer screens and virtual worlds, location-based applications help us discover more, experience more and connect with others in the real world. It’s technology to save us from our technology. But in all the recent conversations about location-based services, there has been very little discussion so far about what we at Loopt think is the most interesting future of these services.

I call the set of all places that you go (and information about when you go, for how long, who with, etc.) the Life Graph. This data set is unique to everyone, and it’s incredibly rich. For example, it’d be easy to learn about me from the neighborhood I live in, the block that I work on, the kinds of restaurants I eat lunch at, and where I usually spend my Saturday afternoons.

The Life Graph creates a powerful model of who you are. As a publisher, when deciding what places and events to present you with, or what nearby users might be interesting for you to meet, we are far better off looking at your Life Graph data than at traditional demographic data. Instead of guessing what you should like based on your age and gender, we can make an incredibly informed guess about what you will like based on what you have liked in the past, and also based on what people you know like.

I hear great new ideas about what to do with this data all the time. For example, a service could learn the time and route you drive to work everyday and alert you if there’s traffic on your normal routes. Or, a service could suggest restaurants rated highly by people who also liked restaurants you like. Or, a service could tell you about “specials” being offered at locations you visit and enjoy frequently. More than just broadcasting your location and helping find nearby friends, these apps can deliver personal and contextually-relevant information that can help us discover and experience more of what’s around us. Certainly we think this kind of service will play into the future of mobile advertising.

Privacy is obviously a huge concern when dealing with an individual’s location history. We know that it’s critical to give users complete control over what data is stored and how it’s used, and to minimize retention of unnecessary data. (See a more in-depth account of Loopt’s privacy policies here.

Our mobile devices are always with us, and they have a lot of sensors. We’re quickly reaching a time where everyone will create massive amounts of data about who they are and what they like just by walking through their worlds. I’m very excited about how this will revolutionize the personalization of mobile services.

Sam Altman is the co-founder and CEO of Loopt. Sam founded Loopt to improve the way friends communicate. His primary responsibility within Loopt is driving the product vision, assembling a passionate team to realize that vision and making sure people have fun while they’re at it.
Sam studied computer science at Stanford University, focusing on security and machine learning. He also helped build an autonomous helicopter navigation system while in school.