Just between you and me, cameraphones are a pain to use.
How often have you wanted to send a quick snapshot to a group of your friends, but decided not to because of the hassle? For example, rather than trying to explain that the party is filling up, you just want to send a photo of it to everyone who’s not there. So what do you do? You start the camera app, take the picture, choose to send via MMS, hunt through your address book for the first person you want to send to, hunt through your address book for the next person, hope the recipient can receive MMS and that it doesn’t just come through as a link, and so on. All the while, you’re staring at your phone instead of enjoying the party.
That’s part of the reason that a few us here at Microsoft have been incubating a project called Slam. It’s a group-centric communication, coordination and photo sharing application developed collaboratively by Microsoft Research’s Community Technologies’s Group and the PIX team (whose blog your reading).
Here’s how it works: using your mobile phone, you create a group, maybe your close set of friends, your urban tribe, your family or some people from work. Whenever you want to send a message to everyone in the group, just compose it in Slam as you would an SMS and hit send. Everyone in the group gets the message instantly. Sending a photo is just as easy: simply snap and send, and it is automatically delivered to everyone in the group. If someone in the group wants to respond, they simply respond to the message and, again, the message or photo is automatically delivered to everyone in the group. This works for group members with smartphones or via SMS for everybody else.
Sounds a lot like a e-mail mailing list, doesn’t it? The magic happens when it all happens on your mobile phone. You carry your phone around with you everywhere you go and it’s always on. That means that the kinds of conversations you can have and the expectation of response are very different. I’ve been using Slam with a few of my groups of friends for over a year now and it’s changed my social life: I rarely make plans in advance anymore. Instead, when I’m ready to go out, I just send a message to my friends asking what people are doing; I’ll get a few responses and a bunch of us will meet up. Oftentimes, this results in serendipitous interactions: someone who hadn’t been planning on going out will see us chatting and decide to haul over and meet up. We even use it for scouting: if there are a few different events going on at the same time, a couple of us go to each and then slam back the report.
Some of the key scenarios for Slam include:
- Real-time Coordination: Out on a Friday night? At a trade conference? No need to decide on a place and time to meet in advance, just send a message to your friends when you’re ready to go and see where everybody is. Some people may be at a restaurant, others on the move, but everybody can send messages and coordinate immediately. Imagine coordinating a ski trip this way, too.
- Instant Group Photo Sharing: You are always seeing beautiful and interesting things, but it’s too hard to send pictures to people with your cameraphone. Use Slam to take a picture and send it to a group of friends with only a few clicks. Try forming a “celebrity sightings” cameraphone group or share pictures with your family throughout your day.
- Broadcast communication: Need a babysitter? Send a message to your “babysitters” group saying “Can someone come over for a few hours right now?” All your potential sitters get the message right when you send it, wherever they are.
Now, some of you may notice some similarities between Slam and services like Dodgeball and UPOC. They are all mobile-phone based social communication applications, but we think Slam has some interesting and important advantages. Dodgeball is great for finding out where people you know are, but not so good at having back and forth conversations with a fixed group. If I see a check in from a friend and send out a response, my friends see the response, not necessarily the people who saw the message I’m responding to. We also think the smart client and easy photo support is a big boon to ease of use. As a bonus to Seattle-area users with the right kind of phone, Slam uses something like cell-tower triangulation and Virtual Earth integration to show you where people in your group are in real-time (with their permission, of course). No need to wait for your friends to check in, just look them up on a map.
But, rather than believe my prattling, you should try it yourself. Slam is available for download to your Windows Mobile smartphone. You can download the cab or get a link sent to your phone. You can also read more about it, first.
You do need a Windows Mobile phone to install the smart client and to create a group, but all your standard-phone friends can participate as long as they can send and receive text messages. We’ll send messages as SMS to anyone in your group that doesn’t have the client installed and assign each group a phone number so they can send messages back. There’s even a web front-end so they can see the photos you’re sharing. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact Scott Counts, me and the rest of the Slam virtual team at slamcore (at) microsoft.com.
One final caveat: the smartphone client uses your phone’s web connection to send and receive text and photos, so be sure you have an unlimited data plan before installing or you could end up with some surprisingly large bills.
– Jordan Schwartz, Senior Program Manager