Nowadays almost everyone used location sharing at least once. Whether you just wanted to check it out and see how it works, wanted for your family and friends to know where you are, used Foursquare back in the day when the app was used to check-in and tell your friends about your whereabouts and giving them means to join you at some venue, or by using some of the specialized apps for schoolchildren and workers, we use the feature without knowing its origins, and when it first appeared. You see, location sharing isn’t something that launched with Foursquare, it was here back in the day when feature phones ruled the market and when smartphones were just a downsized pocket PCs.

Location Sharing Origins

Back in 2003 two New York University students decided to start a company that would provide its users a completely new service. Dodgeball was founded by Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert and if one of the names looks familiar it is because Crowley is the man behind Foursquare. But back in the day, he couldn’t just use GPS and internet connection almost every modern phone has these days, he and his colleague had to rely on old technologies to provide users a completely new service.

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Dodgeball was designed in order to offer users means to find out where their friends are and whether there are interesting venues near their location. Instead of just opening the app and turning on location sharing, Dodgeball’s users had to send an SMS to the service (yeah SMS, it sounds like something from the dark ages) and it will then send them a response containing locations of nearby friends (if any) along with a list of nearby venues.

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Since the mobile internet was still in its infancy, the company couldn’t just use Google Maps’ huge venue library and list all venues. Instead, Dodgeball collected venue location data from major US cities (the service was available in 22 cities), and then sent their locations to nearby users. The service saw some success, enough to be acquired by Google in 2005.

Dodgeball was a fairly simple service. You would send an SMS or an email to a local Dodgeball email address or phone number along with your location and all of your friends would be notified about your whereabouts. Also, if a friend sent their location you and all others would be notified and the party could start. But, the time came for a much more powerful location sharing service.

Evolution Of Location Sharing Services

Crowley and Rainert left Google in 2007, but Dodgeball lived for a while before Google shut it down in 2009 and replaced it with Google Latitude. Google Latitude used Google Maps, allowing its users to share their cell phone location with their friends (well, not really friends, users picked the names from their contacts) and the location would show up on Google Maps. You could allow for the app to show your exact location, or to just show the city you are in. Back then you could also manually enter your location or decide not to share it completely. But the feature wasn’t really popular, making Google shut it down in 2013.

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Crowley didn’t stop with Dodgeball though. He still believed that the market was open to location sharing services, and entered a new venture with Naveen Selvadurai. The duo founded a new company called Foursquare. The app launched in 2009 and became quite popular. It allowed users to “check-in” at various venues, notifying their friends about users’ whereabouts, and more. With Foursquare you could check-in at any location no matter in which country you were since the app supported check-ins via the mobile site or SMS, which got abandoned in newer app versions.

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Foursquare made location sharing popular and launched it into the mainstream. But the app offered much more than just simple check-ins. You could write reviews of venues, get discounts, use the app to search for new locations and much more. But the most important part of the app was location sharing. As of 2014, Foursquare stopped offering location sharing, with the feature moving to the new app called Swarm. And by then, location sharing apps started appearing in large numbers.

Today, most location sharing apps use GPS in order to pinpoint your location as well as mobile networks. Instead of relying on users’ on providing their location, most of the work is done automatically, and if you want to use one you have to agree for it to track your location and to share it with other users.

Where And How Location Sharing Is Used Today

Location sharing is most prominently used in apps that allow you to share your location with friends and family, but there are much more different ways the feature is implemented.

For instance, if you use Facebook Messenger you can allow the app to share your location with friends you are chatting with, great for when a friend arrives in your town and you want to meet, or when you travel to a new town and want to meet a friend living there. Instead of using Google Maps or some other navigation app, just ask a friend to share their location with you and that’s it! But, Messenger offers pretty rudimentary location sharing features. You can share your location just for a short time, and cannot allow your friends and family to track your movement for long periods of time.

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In order to make important people in your life know where you are at all times, it is better to use a standalone location sharing app. On the other hand, Google Maps offer pretty powerful location sharing features. You can choose which persons you want to share your location with, decide on the interval your location will be visible or just let it be visible until you manually stop it, great for times when you are abroad and want to your family and friends to know you are safe.

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Location sharing feature is great for when you lose your phone and want to recover it. No matter if you own an Android or an iOS device, you can find out where your phone is just by visiting Google Maps or singing into your iCloud account and pick your device. Then you can locate it via GPS or mobile networks, but only if the device is turned on. As you see, location sharing isn’t just finding your friends or having an easy way to meet with them, it can also be used for security purposes.

And this is why there are more and more apps and devices used for locating your children and other family members. They work by sharing your child’s location at all times, with you and other members of your family. This can be done via third party apps like Family Locator or via first party solutions such as Family Sharing by Apple.

Further, there are platforms allowing schools to track their students at all times. This way, school administrators, as well as student’s parents, can know if a child boarded the school bus, can now their arrival time (and parents can know when a child will arrive at home), and can easily see where a child is. Similar platforms are used for workers, so their employers can know where their workforce is, to see whether someone is late for work or called sick. This is especially important for companies that offer delivery and transport services, as well as other services where most employees are working outside of the office.

Aside from allowing your friends and family to know where you are, or to use location sharing for security reasons, you can get other benefits from location sharing feature. For instance, Twitter allows businesses to ask their users about their locations so they can offer them better support via direct messages(for instance, if you send a direct message to a network provider asking them about where you can repair your phone, they can ask you about your location and then send you directions to your closest repair service), and there’s also a location-based dating app called Happn able to notify you when you cross paths with another user so you two can meet and maybe go out for a drink. Although the app doesn’t share your exact location, it is based on location sharing feature.

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As you can see, location sharing feature evolved dramatically. From its humble beginnings where you had to send you location via SMS, using the feature nowadays is pretty much automatic. Today, we can meet with our friends, track our loved ones, find each other while being at a music festival (one of the best uses of the feature), meet new people, and organize our business all thanks to location sharing. It started small but became very popular in recent years, so much so that most major apps that are based on social interactions are slowly incorporating it, one by one. And instead of being a feature found just in specific apps, location sharing slowly becomes an omnipresent feature that most of us use on a daily basis.