Zkout (rhymes with "shout") is a new player in the crowded mobile social network field. Launched (audio) at Le Web 3 in December, Zkout bills itself as "The network that follows you", emphasizing that it's location based.
Zkout combines Twitter-style location and status updates with location and media sharing. The basic idea is that you periodically update your status and location and optionally upload a photo or video shot on location. Zkout calls these updates "Moments". Your information is shared with all Zkout users by default but you can restrict visibility of your location, Moments and Profile to friends only and you can completely hide location from everyone. Zkout uses the shared information to show nearby media, people and places and to provide a newsfeed of friend updates. Zkout users can also comment on each others posts and chat.
Zkout has reportedly received seed funding and has 10 employees. There's both a full web and a mobile web interface. On the full web, Zyout uses Flash and Adobe Air to create a slick and very solid interactive experience. The mobile web edition comes in several flavors, a basic one for most phones and a tabbed layout in various sizes for Nokia WebKit, Opera Mini, the iPhone and recent Windows Mobile devices. It's nice to see Zkout recognize that the iPhone isn't the only mobile device that can deliver a rich mobile experience.
Status and location updates are done by manually entering a zip code, city or full address using the web, mobile web or SMS. Video and picture uploading is by mms or email only. I'd like to see Zkout using direct browser uploads using the <input type="file"> tag which is supported by many mobile browsers including WebKit, Mobile IE, Netfront and Opera Mobile and Mini. Zkout users like me with unlimited data plans but pay per use picture messaging would appreciate that.
Location based mobile social networking is not really new or unique to Zkout. Socialight (review) and Mobiluck (review) offer similar mobile web based services and there are also several location based social networking Java ME applications including Loopt and Mologogo. Java has the advantage of being able to get location information from GPS on some phones but the platform's fragmentation limits the number of phone models supported. The mobile web works on almost any phone and doesn't require installation, giving Zkout a much greater base of potential users. The downside of being browser based is that users have to manually enter their location. Zkout eases the pain a bit by trying to guess where you are using your IP address and leting you pick from a remembered list of previous locations.
The unavailability of location data is something that clearly holding back the development of browser based location based services (LBS) of all kinds. There are obvious security concerns but carriers also seem to believe that LBS will be a future gold mine and and price it accordingly, if they make it available at all. In the US, the only carrier that makes location data available in HTTP headers is Sprint and they only do it for one partner, Microsoft Live Search. As part of the Clearwire deal, Google is supposed to replace Microsoft as Sprint's mobile search provider so Google Local Search may soon get access to Sprint's location data. Android may open things up a bit. An operating system has access to both tower data and the GPS chip. I expect Android to make location data available to the browser, with appropriate privacy measures of course.
Sharing your location with your social network is both scary and appealing. It can add a lot of value for the user but it also raises the specters of stalking and Big Brother. Zyout's approach is reassuring, location updates are manual and can be hidden giving users control over when and where their locations are visible.
Of all the location based mobile social services I've looked at, Zkout seems to have one of the nicest designs and best usability on both PC and mobile. My only reservation is that it's rather late to the party. People use the networks their friends are on. It's going to be hard for Zkout to pick up the critical mass of users it needs to become attractive.
Mobile Link: m.zkout.com
Ratings: Content: Usability: