Remember Google Latitude? Launched less than four years ago, it was one of the web giant’s first forays into location-sharing with friends. Even though Google Latitude was completely opt-in with strict privacy settings, I remember the general discomfort the product elicited. Privacy International called the location-sharing app “a gift to stalkers, prying employers, jealous partners, and obsessive friends.” The New York Times seemed skeptical that location sharing would even catch on.
Oh, how times have changed.
Before Facebook came around, it seemed weird to use your real name on the internet. Less than a decade later, there’s no limit to the number of ways you can share every personal detail of your life online.
As technology has evolved to help us keep tabs on our friends, cultural norms have evolved to give us more permission to do so. Where it once seemed creepy to look through a friend’s photo albums or Google her name, now we can do that from our phones while we wait in line at Starbucks. In fact, “stalking” your friends online has become so commonplace that there’s a new wave of tools popping up to help you do it better.
If you’ve ever fumbled with your phone while texting friends that you’re running late, you will love Glympse, a short-term location-sharing app.
When you send someone a “Glympse” of your location, you select a time frame (up to four hours) during which she can track your location on a map.
I use Glympse all the time and even my friends who think it’s a little eerie still have to admit that it’s extremely useful. Glympse is great for letting your friends know you’re on your way or stuck in traffic, and it’s perfect if you’re picking someone up and want her to come out to the curb right as you pull up. I also love it for concerts and other events where you’re prone to getting separated from the herd.
My favorite feature? Along with location, Glympse also displays speed, so you can give your friend a hard time about her pedal-to-the-metal driving when she arrives.
Find My Friends
If you’re looking for a more permanent way to check up on your pals’ location, ask them to download the Find My Friends app. The iOS 6 version of the app has group options for keeping up with friends who’ve moved away and location-based alerts to let you know when your kids arrive at school.
Think using technology to track a significant other might be taboo? Not at all. My friends in a long-distance relationship use the app to share the boring but intimate details of their day-to-day. (Yes, she picked up her dry cleaning. No, he didn’t go to the gym.) It’s a great way for them to keep up with each other’s lives even though they’re separated by many miles.
Want to be able to give your friends props when they get a big promotion or write a cool article? Definitely check out Newsle, my favorite new site for keeping tabs on my friends in the news. If you ever felt weird about having a Google Alert on someone’s name (What? I’ve never done that!), Newsle makes your stalker-ish ways totally kosher.
It works like a news aggregator for your friends, crawling the internet looking for mentions of them in publicly-available news articles. All of the relevant articles are grouped neatly onto a profile so you can see what your friends are up to. It’s a great source for “news about your people.” Everyone is also given a Newsle Rank, a rough measurement of how prominent they are in the news. The most famous newsmaker on Newsle? President Obama, of course.
“Get Notifications” on Facebook
You know those people whose Facebook profiles you check incessantly to see if they’ve posted a new photo or updated their status? Oh sure, you can pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, but I know you’ll be secretly thrilled to learn about the new feature Facebook built to make that process much easier.
Facebook’s new “Get Notifications” feature puts updates from specified friends directly into your Notifications feed (where you’re already looking for updates on who liked your photos and comments on your posts).
To add a friend to your notifications list, visit her profile and click the “Friends” box beneath her cover photo. From there, you’ll see lots of features to control the settings on your friendship, including “Get Notifications” at the top.
Okay, I’ll admit, I added my mom to make sure I never miss anything she posts.
These new tools are just a few of the many that are helping to turn the paradigm of personal information sharing on its head. Excessively keeping tabs on each other used to drive people apart, but new opt-in technologies can actually bring them closer together. No need to hide anymore. Want to not-so-creepily stalk your friends? There’s an app for that.
TopicsTools & Skills , The Download by Anneke Jong , Social Media , Tech , Syndication , Social Media & Blogging
Anneke is a founding executive and leads the business side of Reserve, one of Fast Company's Most Innovative companies of 2016. She joined Reserve from the Google Creative Lab where she led teams building the future of tech. An advisor to NPR and a startup veteran, she is an experienced entrepreneur and storyteller who speaks and writes on topics related to technology and culture. She lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at @annekejong.More from this Author