Eircom pursues ‘Locle’ approach to social media

16 Oct 2008

Ireland’s incumbent telecoms operator, Eircom, is to launch a new social media application on its website that will enable internet and mobile phone users to discover on a map where friends and colleagues are at any time.

The web application was developed by entrepreneurs Peter Oonk and Ronan Higgins. Their company, Locle, was one of four businesses to win a share in the €100,000 Eircom Web Innovation Fund earlier this year.

The location-based service,  which will launch in the coming weeks, uses a patent-pending method to retrieve mobile phone IDs in dense populations through mobile masts, which have an accuracy down to 50 metres. The service can currently be accessed at http://m.locle.com.

The service has been trialled by over 150 people in Dublin, London and Amsterdam, and works on 60pc of mobile phones or on any PC browser.

“I could be sitting in a café by myself, and if I look at the map on my mobile phone I would

be able to see how proximate any one of my friends are. If there’s someone I want to meet, I could just get in touch,” says Oonk.

The Locle application could set off alarm bells in certain people’s minds, such as the cheating husband or the skiving worker, but, according to Oonk, privacy is foremost and the service is opt-in only.

“Just as on any social network like Facebook or MySpace, you could block a user or restrict access. We have built Locle in such a way that you can invite people to link with you by phone, email or via Facebook, and we also hope to make the application available for free as a download from the iTunes Apps Store.

“You can use it to update your status on a Friday night to let your friends know you’re in the Stag’s Head, and you can see where they are on the map.”

In terms of monetisation, Locle has done a number of deals with social networking players including Netlog, the biggest social network player in western and central Europe, as well as the Irish gay dating site, GSVP.com. “We’ve been talking to other social networking firms such as Nimble.ie, and we are looking at potential business applications for the technology,” Oonk says.

Locle has been certified as one of Enterprise Ireland’s high-potential start-ups and sees future integration paths with other technology platforms such as Twitter.

“The aim of Locle is to bring social networking from behind a computer desk to real interaction on the street. We are also looking at context and location-based advertising.

For example, as you walk down the street and you’re looking for a restaurant, you can get details of different restaurants in the area and what they’re offering.”

Oonk concludes that small businesses could harness the technology to track deliveries. “It wasn’t part of our original approach, but it might be a focus in the future. We want to take social networking from the computer to the street.”

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Peter Oonk and Ronan Higgins of Locle, a new Web 2.0 company that, along with Eircom, plans to take social networking from the PC to the street

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years