Dopplr: More Fuzziness Wanted [en]

[fr] Dopplr est un de ces "social tools" (si vous avez une meilleure traduction que "outils sociaux", qui franchement, ne traduit pas du tout l'idée, faites-moi signe) qui permet à chacun d'indiquer quels sont ses prochains voyages prévus et de les partager avec ses contacts. Là où Dopplr ajoute véritablement quelque chose, c'est qu'il va informer l'utilisateur s'il se retrouve dans la même ville au même moment qu'un de ses contacts.

Dans ce billet, je parle de deux choses qui pourraient à mon avis rendre Dopplr encore plus utile: un peu de "flou spatial", pour que Dopplr "sache" que Genève c'est tout près de chez moi, et que je ne veux pas seulement être avertie quand mes amis viennent à Lausanne, mais aussi s'ils sont de passage à Genève (et pourquoi pas quand ces villes seront dans le système), Morges ou Yverdon. Et deuxièmement, du flou possible dans les dates, que je puisse indiquer si ce sont des dates "fermes" ou déplaçables -- ou encore si mon voyage est sûr ou bien en projet.

I really, really like Dopplr. I does something rather simple (from a user point of view) and does it well. It lets me know if my travels are bringing me in the same town as other people I know, either because they live there or because they’re travelling too. It also allows people to keep up-to-date with my travels, maybe in a more user-friendly way than my Where is Steph? public calendar.

My Dopplr Page

Having said that, there is a way in which Dopplr could improve its usefulness for me quite a bit, by introducing some amount of temporal and spatial fuzziness. Huh? Let’s start with the shortcomings I’ve found, and hopefully I’ll explain things more clearly. (Ugh, feeling clumsy with English today, not sure why.)

I have set my hometown as Lausanne, Switzerland, so when Dopplr-contacts of mine travel to Lausanne, I’m informed. Great, so far. But what if a normally US-based Dopplr-contact of mine comes to Geneva? Geneva is about 40 minutes away by train. If somebody I know, and who lives on another continent, is coming to Geneva, well, I would definitely want to know. Even if the destination was Zürich, for that matter. It’s as good as if they were headed for Lausanne.

See where I’m headed? Of course, this is a complex feature to add. For the moment, I imagine Dopplr matches trip coincidences based on location names. This would involve computing distances between various cities. It would also involve determining what level of geographical fuzziness makes sense in which situation. For example, I’m going clearly going to be interested in knowing when people who live really far off are coming less far away — hell, I might even go to Paris to meet up with some of my friends who live on the other side of the pond. I might not be that interested in knowing that a friend of mine from Geneva is travelling to Paris, when I haven’t got any plans to go there. Maybe we could have sliders somewhere to change location fuzziness easily.

The other shortcoming I’ve bumped into has to do with time (hence “temporal and spatial fuzziness”). For some of my trips, the dates are set. It’s the case with my upcoming trip to Denmark, for example. I got a special priced flight with “no changes allowed”, so the dates are set in stone. (And yes, of course, I’d like to change my return flight. Gah.) My upcoming trip to Paris in November, however, is very fuzzy. I know roughly what dates I’m going to be there, but I could head there earlier or hang around a few days once the conference is over. It would be really useful for me to be able to indicate how “hard” my travel dates are.

Another type of “time fuzziness” I’d like to have is for “not sure yet” trips. I’d like to go to India next winter — not quite sure when, not quite sure where exactly.

Of course, having said all that, I’m going to play devil’s advocate a bit (am I really?) by reminding everybody that “less is more” and that it’s often better to “do one thing, and do it well”. I feel the same about Twitter: I feel it’s missing features to make it “really great” for me, but on the other hand, I fear that adding too much to it will make it lose what makes it special and turn it into a tentacular monster. I’ve seen that happen, to some extent, with coComment — at the beginning, a rather straightforward comment tracking system, now with many layers of icing and social goodies which make me feel a bit lost when I look at it. (Disclaimer: coComment were a client of mine, and I encouraged them to add certain features to it at the beginning — like tagging, neighbours — but now I wonder if pushing in that direction was such a good idea after all. Future will tell, I guess — version 2 is due out soon.)

So, what’s missing to make your Dopplr “perfect”?

17 thoughts on “Dopplr: More Fuzziness Wanted [en]

  1. I agree that Dopplr’s simplicity is a strength at the moment. I was actually also reading your post about Twitter usage (with a list of implied improvements they could make), and wondered whether all the features you could add to a service like this are going to improve it or not.

    What’s missing? Hmm. They already state / imply that they will add some contact management features, and I think that will help. I also mentioned to mattb that integration with e.g. Upcoming makes a lot of sense… if that can happen without Yahoo! acquiring the hell out of them 🙂

    Basically I’m relatively satisfied. I’ve taken to adding a note to any invites I send that the person I’ve invited needs to add me in order for me to see their trips – it’s a little counter-intuitive coming from other social networks, but a good way of managing access.

  2. Geoff: I hear you. Invites are hard to come by. They hand us a couple every now and again (I’ve had four in total for now).

  3. I think the main problem I’m running into right now is that friends relationships really have to be bi-directional. Being able to one-way add someone is great until they don’t add you back – and then you’re stuck not being able to see them but, in the current beta, you can’t retract the invitation.

    So either a lot of people don’t like me (you included, Steph!), or it’s not obvious enough that people have to add you back – even those you invite.

    Otherwise, I love the service.

  4. Actually, just realized what the problem is while talking to Suw: Everyone’s in the Twitter mindset.

    When someone adds you as a friend on Twitter (or Flickr, or, it generally means “I am interested in reading your information and the like”.

    When someone adds you as a friend on Dopplr, it’s the exact reverse. It means “I am publishing my information to you, if you’d like to see it.”

    It’s hard to reverse polarities when thinking about social networks.

  5. Dan: you’re right, adding on Dopplr and adding on Twitter is the reverse. The Dopplr way makes sense, because it puts privacy first.

    I hadn’t realised you had added me and I hadn’t! Just added you back. Being able to see a list of “people who have added me” would be useful.

  6. Geoff: enjoy the invite 😉
    So Luis IM’d me to ask for an invite on behalf of Euan Semple which was destined for Geoff. There’s social networking for you!

  7. It looks like a very interesting social network. Would like to start if somebody can send me an invitation.

  8. Steph – some great suggestions here. Fuzziness, privacy and politeness are things we thinking very hard about as we progress the design of the service. Glad you think we’ve got the adding process the right way round, at least to start off with – we thought long and hard about that.

    It’s clear to me at least that people do impose their mental models from other services onto new ones they discover – nothing earth-shattering about that, but we should perhaps be clearer about the model in order to make that subtle shift.

    Glad you’re enjoying it and very reassured to hear you approve to our somewhat puritanical approach to adding new features!!!



  9. I’m trying to work out the difference between Dopplr and Plazes – other than that the latter is open to all at the moment and Dopplr is by invitation only. Unfortunately, I can’t test drive Dopplr for myself yet as I don’t have an invitation. Can anyone flag any differences between the two?

  10. They’re completely different propositions. Dopplr’s primarily about the future: about seeing who among your friends will be where, when. Its simplicity and focus are what make it valuable to me.

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  12. Hello Stephanie, I’m late to this thread, but read about it on scoble’s blog. . . I would like to get an invite to try this out, too. If you or anyone that you know has one to spare — please let me know at howard.liptzin [at] gmail dot com, thanks.

    While on the subject, I share the view that introducing too much complexity in the form of features, preferences or options tends to destroy the beauty (and I use that term in the full sense of its meaning) of many highly-focused applications. It is very understandable why and how this happens, but that does not make the phenomenon anymore palatable to the end user.


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