Dodgeball Patent Application: Location and Mobile Based Social Software Bringing Assisted Serendipity

What happens when you build a social networking system based upon mobile devices? One that can allow people to find where their friends are, and allow them to meet up. Such a system could allow the broadcasting of messages based upon relationships, allowing for the meeting of friends of friends, and the introduction of new friends based upon profile matches. One such system is Dodgeball.com.

Dodgeball founders Dennis Crowley and Alexander Rainert worked upon a location based social software system incorporating the use of mobile phones (with cameras) for a thesis project at NYU. Their meetings, notes and journals are (no longer available) online, as well as a movie clip of what they were working upon in the thesis days.

While Dodgeball provides a great way of having friends and people with shared interests meeting each other easily (what its founders refer to as “assisted serendipity”), there are hints of a number of other possible applications described in the journals and notes created during the developement of the system. For example, Alexander Rainert wrote in one journal entry (no longer online):

A user walks up the the window at American Apparel and sees that it is a [insert feature name here] – enabled screen. The user sends a text message to an address on the screen that says “Hi.” The system now knows the phone ID (unique) of the user in front of the screen and can now display information (photos, news, events in the neighborhood) to that user. 30 seconds pass and the screen resumes what it was displaying prior to the user’s interaction.

Dodgeball was acquired by Google on May 11, 2005, which earned Crowley and Rainert 100 “woots” from their former instructor Clay Shirky, who knows a little about social networking himself.

The patent application came out this morning, and provides some details behind how the system works.

Location-based social software for mobile devices
Invented by Dennis P. Crowley, and Alexander M. Rainert
US Patent Application 20060270419
Published November 30, 2006
Filed on May 11, 2005

Abstract

A method of establishing connection between users of mobile devices includes receiving at a computer a location of a first user from a first mobile device, receiving from a second mobile device a location of a second user having an acquaintance relationship to the first user, and sending a message to the first mobile device based on the proximity of the first user to the second user.

The movie and the journal clips are great introductions to how Dodgeball works, and the patent filing itself is fairly readable as patent applications go. Dodgeball is available presently in 22 cities across the United States, and it would be great to see it grow some more. With it, and applications like Yahoo’s Zonetag and mobile alerts, we’re seeing the development and growth of applications that work well in a mobile environment. Dodgeball may be the beginning of a platform that provides a number of other interesting uses.

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