At its core, Twitter is supposed to be a micro-presence service that invites users to answer the question, “What are you doing?”. That’s all well and good, but most people tend to ignore this question entirely, Tweeting about anecdotes, their favorite songs, and any number of other things totally unrelated to what they’re actually doing. It’s become a service for entertainment, news, and conversations, where those presence statuses (messages like “I’m at work”) have become frowned upon for being dreadfully boring.
They may be boring, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. Quub, a new service launching tonight, is looking to fill the gap between Twitter’s status updates and the location-based services offered by the likes of Loopt and Google Latitude. The service’s primary purpose is to help users tell their friends what they’re actually doing, and while it shares some similarities with Twitter (including a 140 character limit), there are some key distinctions that help Quub stand on its own.
The first main difference is that all relationships on Quub are two-way. That is, you’ll have to send a friend request (and have it accepted) before you can view someone’s updates. The service also has support for groups, which means you can selectively send out your current status updates to a specific list of people (you can drag and drop users between groups much as you would songs in iTunes).
The other major difference is the way Quub helps you actually write your status updates. Quub knows that most people repeat similar tasks on a day to day basis, and pays attention to your previous status updates to help you build any updates in the future. These suggestions appear as floating text in a bubble beneath the entry field, so while you still have the option of filling in each action manually, you can also click on the suggestions to build your update in a few seconds. This may not matter much on the web client (you’d probably only save a few seconds versus typing the update yourself), but the service is also going to launch a fleet of mobile applications for the iPhone, Android, and other devices, where the suggestions will definitely come in handy. These updates are sent to your Quub friends, and can also be syndicated to a variety of services like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.
When it comes to browsing your friends’ status updates, Quub offers a handful of different modes. The first is ‘Present’, which shows the most recent location update from each of your contacts (the resulting list looks similar to foursquare, without the game aspect). A ‘Past’ view offers a Twitter-like stream of all of your friends’ recent updates. And finally, there will be a ‘Future’ view, which allows users to time-stamp updates. The ‘future’ mode is handy because it can also be used as a basic calendar function.
Quub has opted to forgo allowing users to post their exact GPS coordinates (which they deem to be too creepy), and instead leave it up to the user to announce where they are in their message. Unfortunately, Quub has not yet partnered with any databases to help users match their current position to nearby points of interest, so you’ll have to input each location you visit manually at first.
Quub has a solid idea and is well designed, but it’s going to face a few big challenges. For one, many people are already on Twitter, and it may be hard to convince them use another micro-messaging service. Granted, Quub serves a different purpose, with more granular privacy controls and intelligent message suggestions, but it shares so many similarities with Twitter that people may not understand the difference. And unlike foursquare, which has a neat gaming aspect, Quub has nothing to drive you to pull out your phone and update your status frequently. Finally, there’s also the problem that plagues all such location-based services: they’re only useful if your friends are on them, and it’s going to be a long uphill battle to reach critical mass.