Some time ago (last August) I heard something about a cool new collaborative website called Plazes. The idea is that you can record locations you have been, and add them to the site. You can also use the site for location-awareness, and discover other people around you. Interesting idea, I thought to myself… we've been doing that in IBM for some time, with our internal use of IBM Community Tools and now with Sametime 7.5 (which I'm currently alpha testing – it's great!).
I'm a sucker for all the trends, so I signed up. Then I discovered that in order to use Plazes, you need to use a small launcher app which sits on your machine and records your router's MAC address in order to register new places/plazes. The Linux launcher wasn't very elegant, so I kind of lost interest.
Our story resumes this year. About three weeks ago, I received a mysterious email via my old website, indicating that someone lived nearby. I'd forgotten all my credentials and wasn't really using Plazes, so I didn't think much of it. Eventually I got around to replying to the guy who sent the mail, explaining that I wasn't using it.
But then, I got sucked in. I downloaded a Windows launcher (the .NET launcher from Christian Heindel) and started to use the site to find out who and what was around me. I found connections to Flickr profiles, and started to make a few new contacts. While I was updating my blog this weekend, I also updated my Plazes profile to point at my new site. It turned out that Luis was using Plazes (I'd actually known this for ages, but didn't get around to pinging him on the subject since I wasn't using it). It also now turns out that Ed Brill is using it – see his illuminating blog post on the subject of Plazes and location-awareness.
I have to say that there are a few things that could be improved – these are probably the reasons why I never got into it before:
- There are a lack of Plazes in my area. I guess I just need to go and discover some new ones!
- The user interface is slightly hard to navigate. As an example, I was trying to send a friend request to Ed today, and couldn't figure out how (here's how I did it in the end: People in the top bar; search; click on person; click on "view detailed profile" at the top left; then you can use the "Add as friend" option in the left bar).
- There's a lack of information on how to use the site.
- The blog is not updated very often, and when it is, it seems to be all about press coverage rather than features. So there's a lack of community feel compared to, say, Flickr or WordPress. As an example, a new version of the Plazes launcher came out late last week (for Windows – it's called Plazer, and it is better than the .NET launcher I was using before), but I only found out about it by accident (NB the Linux launcher has been moved out of the limelight on the Plazes site, but it is still available – they are promising a new version later in the year)
- The website has a few spelling mistakes, which makes it feel a little unfinished. There's no way of reporting it – the Support link pops open a simple form to ask for help, but there's no forum or bug/feature tracking system which would help to foster collaboration.
- There's an unofficial coding site, codeplaze.com. However, the wiki is closed, the FAQ is a dead link, and the blog there is only rarely updated. There's also no Java API 😦 So all-in-all, it doesn't feel all that easy to get started.
Setting all those issues aside, I do agree with Ed's comment that Plazes could be ready to take off. It needs some love, and some way of getting people more excited about collaborating. Why not try it out and see what you think?