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Neer is location technology for those who don't want to overshare

January 11, 2011 |  4:46 pm

Neer Logo Ever since Foursquare took off at last year's South by Southwest, one question continues to vex many of its users: What's it for?

For some, it's a game of capturing the flag for their local coffee shop. For others, it's about being able to say they're a Foursquare power user with a dozen badges to prove it.

At the same time, most users have another nagging question about location-based technologies -- are they oversharing? Why does the world need to know they're at the 24-hour Fitness on Sunset Boulevard, atoning for all those Christmas cookies?

Neer, a location-based application for Android and iPhones, tries to address both of those questions. Let's start with the first question: Why? The engineers at Qualcomm who came up with the app says families, tight social circles or work groups whose members meet often can use Neer to track one another's comings and goings to coordinate everyday activities.

Did the kids get picked up? Is now a good time to start dinner? Is a colleague still in her office, or has she already gone home for the night? Those are some of the use cases Neer wants to address.

As for the second question having to do with privacy and putting out too much personal information, Neer is designed so information is shared only within one's personal groups. Unlike Foursquare, users and their locations aren't searchable.

Neer adds a second layer of obscurity to thwart snoops. Locations are called by their generic names, not their actual map coordinates. It's assumed that when a user gets a ping informing them that their spouse has arrived at "work" or "soccer practice," they already know where those places are.

The app also lets users determine when certain people on their lists receive notices. Work colleagues, for example, can see location activity only on weekdays and only between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. You can also use the app to send group messages, such as "Free beer in cafeteria now!"

So why is a San Diego-based chip company coming out with a location app? Qualcomm, which showed Neer at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, wants to give users more excuses to use their smart phones, for which Qualcomm develops much of its technologies, explained Ian Heidt, Neer's director of business development.

Right now, Neer is accurate only within a couple of blocks. But as Qualcomm and others refine the technology to more accurately pinpoint locations using wireless signal characteristics, Heidt sees a day when users can be located within a couple of yards. That is, if they want to be found.

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-- Alex Pham

twitter.com/AlexPham

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