Ban.jo for iPhone
Feel like you’re missing nearby friends or nearby fun? Ban.jo, a free iPhone/iPod touch app, is designed to fix that problem.
The app lets you plug into five different social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, or Google+. If one of your friends on those networks checks in or updates a geotagged status, Ban.jo alerts you if that activity is taking place nearby. The idea, according to Ban.jo’s developers, is to eliminate those times when you and your friends are within shouting distance of each other but might not know it. You can adjust the app so that alerts will appear for friends as close as a quarter-mile or as far as 10 miles away.
And you’re not limited to seeking out your friends. Ban.jo offers a search function so you can explore all the nearby public check-ins and status updates for fun activities: My search for “party” turned up 40 postings within a 20-mile radius of my Philadelphia apartment.
You can also use Ban.jo to do a fair amount of virtual people watching, though in a manner that some social network users may find disconcerting. The app’s main screen offers a display of every nearby social network user who has checked in during the last several hours. You don’t have to know those users, and they don’t have to be part of the Ban.jo network—they merely have to leave their Facebook or Twitter settings in the default “public” mode. Out of 120 people near my location when I tested the app, it appeared that just five were using Ban.jo. You can tag any stranger as a “favorite” and follow their movements long after they’ve left your neighborhood. If they’re not a Ban.jo member, they might not ever know you’re doing so.
This aspect of Ban.jo seems to me like the same sort of thing that triggered a backlash against Girls Around Me, another app that used publicly available check-in data to follow strangers. (That app has been yanked from the App Store by its developer.) Ban.jo doesn’t agree with my comparison, with CEO Damien Patton telling me that Ban.jo is the “most privacy-leading company in the space by far. The only people you see are people who have agreed to show their information through the social networks that they’re on.” Patton also notes that the ability to “favorite” a person on Ban.jo and track subsequent location updates is no different from what you can do on any other social network—which is a fair point.
Ban.jo certainly delivers on its promise of alerting you to your friends’ and associates’ whereabouts instead of letting you pass like ships in the night. I find the app’s ability to track strangers’ movements a little off-putting, but that’s an issue of social network users being cavalier—or unaware—of the information they’re sharing with the public. Still, while Ban.jo does what it sets out to do well, I wonder whether it should be doing all the things that it currently does.
[Joel Mathis is a writer in Philadelphia.]