is about to roll out version 3.0 of their website next week. Right now they are doing some closed beta testing with a few hundred invited guests, and there are still some kinks here and there - but overall I must say I'm really impressed.

plazes 3.0 start page

Plazes is a location-based social network / location enabler that allows you to publish your current location to the world, share it with friends and look who is or has been at a certain place. It started back in summer 2005 and has really evolved since then.

Originally the idea seemed to be to enable other services with location information, which is why Plazes always just offered a bare minimum of services itself, but helped to get things going elsewhere. Plazes offered one of the first methods to post geotagged photos to Flickr, and it made it possible early on to publish your current location on iChat and Skype. The most recent incarnation of the Plazes website relied heavily on Google Maps, and they even built a Netvibes module.

Unfortunately, that was pretty much it. The Plazes API hasn't been used for too many interesting mashups, the developer site has been down for months and the Plazes website itself didn't invite for much interaction. Users simply didn't many incentives to play around - something that I already mentioned when I reviewed the service back in July last year.

As a result Plazes hasn't seen as much growth as it could have. People instead flocked to Twitter and Jaiku, where interaction is key. The Plazes team obviously learned from this and incorporated a bunch of social components into their new platform.

plazes 3.0 chatter

Users can now set a status message any time to describe what they are doing at certain place. You can track the status messages of your friends as well as take a look at the raw feed to see what everyone is up to. They also have groups, which can be organized around existing social networks, locations, conferences, hobbies - you get the idea. You can track status messages from your group as well as explore the group's places, which is a great feature to make yourself familiar with, say, the restaurants in the neighbourhood of a conference you are attending.

plazes 3.0 groups

In a way, the new Plazes is a bit like Jaiku, combining social networking and messaging with your status. The difference is that Jaiku treats locations only as a part of your status message. You are asleep at home, working in the office, or vice versa. Plazes actually gives you a chance to explore all those places, making it a much more rewarding experience.

There's also some more nifty new features:

You can plaze yourself via the web interface
. Plazes originally was dependent on an application that used your router's MAC ID to uniquely identify your location. Now you can just use the web interface to select where you are. I still think the Plazer was a great idea, and I'll continue to use it once the new version is available.

You can add past Plazes. Nice to add a more social component to Plazes that already exist. Just tell the system that you have visited this Plaze in the past with a single mouse click.

plazes 3.0 clustered maps

Maps are now clustered. Now that's awesome. Many services that are built on top of Google Maps have struggled with infromation overload. What do you do when there are so many pins in the map that you can't even see the map anymore? Plazes clusters them based on proximity, making it possible to zoom in until you are at a level where you can differentiate between the different locations. There are still some kinks, but the idea itself is great.

You can add future Plazes. Again, great for conferences and other meeting spots. Sure, Eventful and Upcoming give you an idea of who will attend which conference - but wouldn't it be great if you knew who stays at which hotel as well? Would love to see this mashed up with with calendaring. Plazes SMS already does some text parsing to extract locations, so I don't see why this can't be done with your iCal / Google Calendar / Eventful feed.

There are still lots of smaller things that could be improved, some of which surely will find their way into the official beta release next week. But the overall direction Plazes has taken with this new release is very, very promising. I hope they are getting some new server power soon, because they might need it once the Twitter renegades get fed up with Jaiku as well.

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