14 questions for Justin Davies BuddyPing founder

JustinI first met Justin in Pizza Express Baker Street a few months ago to learn more about buddyPing (and MobileGlu).  We had almost met quite a few times (schedule conflicts, emergency cancellations, total diary screw-ups by me… and so on) — so it was with a bit of relief that we finally actually connected face to face. 

Here’s how the buddyPing site defines the service offering:

buddyPing is a great way to find friends, events and pretty much anything in your local area with your phone.  Just text your current location to us and we will send you a text with the location of your friends and anything happening in your area for free.

When we met, I was encouraged and excited by Justin’s passion and incisive understanding of technology.  He has led the development of buddyPing and mobileGlu aggressively — to the point that his company, NinetyTen, is experiencing super growth. 

It’s not a surprise.  A while ago I can remember suggesting that he and Alfie of talk to see if they could integrate their services. Within the weekend the connection was complete and operational.  This sort of quick development — continuous iteration upon iteration is what excites me.  It’s fascinating to see applications and services evolve — particularly if the development is headed by someone like Justin who ‘gets it’.

I asked him if he could answer a few questions for a profile here as I reckoned it would be good to get a ‘techie’ perspective.  I was delighted when he agreed.  So, here we go.  We start off with the now usual ones then I tried to get a bit creative 😉

1. What was your first mobile handset & what network?

It was a brick of a Nokia around 2000 (I have no idea what phone it was!) on what was then One2One (now T-Mobile)

2. Describe your current mobile setup.

I have a few phones as I am going through a transition period from one setup to another.  I used to own a Treo 650 on Voda, an SE k608i (using the Voda SIM), and my main setup now is a Nokia N80 on Orange, which I have been after for about 6 months.  I take advantage of the free data on my Mac when I am not in WiFi range out and about.

3. How much was your last mobile bill?

Relatively low at £58.  That was because all of the data traffic I used was included in Orange’s 1G a month for the first three months.

4. What was the spark that led to the development of buddyPing?  What came first? NinetyTen or buddyPing?

Well, buddyPing came about after I heard about Dodgeball in the US.  I thought the idea was fantastic, but needed to be available to the world.  I also felt there were huge limitations to widespread use because your were located by the venue you were in.  I decided to write buddyPing so that it was usable by anyone in the world, and much more general.  For example, if I was in Balham, where I live, I can just tell buddyPing I am at Home, Balham.

As time went on, I used buddyPing as a way to try new things out in mobile and location services, and over the past 9 months, I have learnt a lot from user interaction, what is good and what is not which has allowed me to put that learning experience into buddyPing version 2.  I never started buddyPing to make money, it was all about me trying out cool stuff on the mobile and now I am hooked.  It was only when I saw a load of people sign up and use it that I started to take it very seriously and started NinetyTen Ltd to look after what was then my little side project.

I think mobile communities will be very big.  Think about it, the people that use MySpace love community, and they love their mobile.  Those two things together are very powerful as you have access to content "feeders and readers" whenever they have a mobile signal.  But a big thing about being mobile is your spatial presence.  Is it relevant to someone that they see that a picture someone took was actually 3 miles from them, or that an event that is happening is just round the corner ?  Of course!  That is why I really think Mobile + Location + Community is a very exciting space to be in, and one which will only grow in the next 12 months.

5. Cut and paste 10 lines from the BuddyPing java code and comment them.

It is about 1,500 lines of Java code, and I would have to past a pretty good chunk to show anything cool, so not at the moment 😉

[ok, so I was going out on a limb here.  I didn’t realise the code was so small — I thought there would have been tens of thousands of lines!  – Ewan]

6. Since you’ve gone live with BuddyPing, what surprised you about how the users adopted the service?   Can you give some examples of how BuddyPing and Mobileglu are used.

BuddyPing is being used by most people to just find their friends.  We have found that a lot of people in the London area use it, and that is probably because I sub consciously focused on London because that is where I live.  One great way I heard it was being used was by a guy who runs a car club and wanted to be able to get his members to "tag" where they spot certain cars.  Things like this will be a lot easier to do in the future.

As for MobileGlu, most feedback I have is exactly what I designed it for.  A lot of people use it to sync up their data before travelling to work in the morning to read all their headlines.

Regarding the user’s of buddyPing, I really thought it would be only early adopters who used it, but found out very quickly after the initial early adopter rush of sign ups that most of our users are of the MySpace generation.  Normal, sociable people.

7. What do you think is right and wrong with the mobile industry today?

What is right about the industry is that nearly every person has a mobile phone that is not tied to a desk.  The Internet helped people become more tech friendly, and realise technology can be useful on a one to one basis.  A mobile phone is a terminal to large amounts of data that can be queried and also constructed in the palm of your hand as long as you have a mobile phone and network coverage.  The mobile phone is effectively a person from the service provider’s point of view, and a portal from the user’s point of view.  That is a powerful combination.

What is wrong is the complete opposite of the utopia I just described.  The phone manufacturers are providing amazing functionality in handsets now (WiFi, Flash Lite, 3G etc.) which cannot be fully utilised to provide this two way access to data because the cost of GPRS/3G is just so high.  No one, including me wants an extra £20 on my bill at the end of the month because I read my email, upload some pictures and read my RSS feeds.

And from first hand experience the cost of using my mobile abroad is just ridiculous.  I was in the US, and it cost me about £5 per Meg of data I used and a few pounds a minute when I made or received a call.  People do need to travel, and not all of those can write off their mobile bill to their company (the same reason the Train companies charge a fortune when travelling in peak hours).

8. If you had to buy a new mobile & price plan tomorrow, what would you choose?

I would probably stick with the N80, but switch to T-Mobile for their lovely all you can eat data for £8 per month (I like mobile data!)

9. List 5 feeds from your Mobileglu account.

10. What are the most used features on your handset (apart from calling/texting)?

Email has got to be it. There are two things I just cannot be without, and that is my mobile and email.  My Treo 650 is a wonderful emailing machine for sending.  The N80 sucks because it doesn’t have a QWERTY keyboard.  That is the biggest thing I miss.  But the phones are of course targeted at different uses.

11. Rate the UK network providers in order of preference with a one line summary of each.

T-Mobile – Not for their coverage (I have heard it sucks), but for innovation in their price plans, data plans and trying out converged strategies with Nokia

O2 – Rock solid Cell network, innovative in some of the services they have (Streetmaps on your mobile), and I think one to watch when it comes to convergence of mobile services

Orange – They are trying to be innovative with Orange world, good handsets, and decent customer service in my experience.

Vodafone – You gotta love them for trying, and also the sheer amount of operations around the world.  It is just a shame they hemorrhage money on things like Vodafone Live

3 – Well, their walled garden approach says it all.  They had the change to totally change the mobile industry, but chose to increase revenue in the short term.

12. What’s the hottest mobile service to catch your eye recently?

It has to be 82ASK, I use it pretty much every weekend when at the Pub with friends and one of "those" weird questions come up.  I like the service, but from a commercial point of view can see that the overheads involved must be massive.  I really hope they can continue because it is an excellent example of homegrown mobile innovation.

13. Name one person you rate in the mobile industry and say why.

I know this is a get out of jail answer, but anyone who has the balls to do something cool in the mobile space will get my backing anytime.  I have made no secret of the fact that I am more than happy to give advice and feedback to any startup in the mobile space because I know a guy or girl in their bedroom trying something in a tough (both technically and commercially) industry deserves the support to succeed which is sometimes difficult to find. 

The Web 2.0 phenomenon is something that is not happening in the mobile space because the technical know how is usually hidden behind a company.  In Web 2.0, all the information is readily available, and the "Free Software" movement has helped to get people up and running quickly.  Linux and GPL software is where I came from, so I guess this is why I feel strongly about this.

14. Which company or organisation do you think the industry is generally underrating at the moment?

I think Skype Mobile is something that *could* help to disrupt the Operators, but they will be hampered by the cost of data.  I think companies need to push services around data because it will help to force the hand of operators, and also allows new people to innovate in the industry.  You can do cool stuff with SMS, but for widespread innovation, better services, realtime information etc., data is the key, and until the mobile industry realises they should be acting as a pipe for Voice and Data, we need people to push these types of services to force their hand.

Justin, thank you very much!

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

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