Where.com: GPS is Trigger for Local-Social Mobile Portal

Local mobile portals make a lot of sense since most phones (even the iPhone 3G) don’t really lend themselves to much surfing. Another social/viral dimension is added via social networking enhancements via profile pages, Twitter and especially, GPS.

Two services seem to be leading the way for locally-based mobile social networking right now: Silicon Valley-based Loopt, which is backed by Sequoia Ventures, and Boston-based Where.com.

Where.com VP Michael Sullivan, an EnPocket vet, gave me the rundown on his service, which has about a million users activated. It is the first consumer facing product for parent company U-Locate.com, which started as fleet tracking business five years ago, and has a number of location based services (LBS). 

The immediate opportunity for Where is for friends to see who is near them, and if they want to go out, what is near them – an application it has branded as “buddy beacon.” From a vertical advertising perspective, it’s highly appealing to brick and mortar type businesses, such as movie theaters, automotive and retail.

Longer term, Sullivan sees the service providing location based “find it and buy it” services for Yellow Pages companies. “You can order a pizza with short code without putting in an area,” he says. They will automatically know where you are based on network location (opted in). A current deal with Sprint already offers up that capability. Directory assistance is also greatly enhanced, he says. 

The bigger value proposition is with a service similar to Goog411, which currently works on a zip code basis and narrows down searches to a radius of a few miles. But “when you are on the street, you want something sent to you that is a couple of hundred feet away,” says Sullivan. 

Specifically referring to Google’s role in the space, Sullivan sees a “co-optition” kind of relationship developing. “They aren’t focused on the social local that we’re doing. We’re seeing the richest engagement with users.”

Where is currently aggregating a great deal of premium content as a key part of its engagement strategy. Partners include such providers as golf.comeventful.com, state parks, movie theaters, weather, winery finder, brewery finder, Starbucks, cheap gas and ZipCar.