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July 25, 2008

Nokia Chat: part one – inspiration and vision

INTERNATIONAL – I’ve been using Nokia Chat for almost a couple of weeks, since the day it popped up on Beta Labs, and ever since I’ve been intrigued. Not only by the service itself, which offers instant messaging mixed with a large portion of GPS pinpointing. I’ve also been curious as to where the idea emerged from and how comfortable we feel as users with services such as this, which at a glance could be perceived to have a ‘big brother’ element to them.

So this afternoon I got on the phone to Kristian Luoma, project manager on Nokia Chat, to talk to him in more depth about this new product. In this first of three stories focussed on Nokia Chat, I spoke to Luoma about the inspiration and how his vision for how he hopes people will behave with the service.

Fusing instant messaging with GPS is by far a typical coupling (this is the first app to tout the blend), but Luoma explains the thinking:

“GPS pinpointing comes naturally if you look at the strategy we have overall for services and software. This is an expression of that strategy, as we wanted to differentiate our IM with the GPS aspect, bringing an extra dimension with the location functionality. And we’re in the perfect place to do that, as the device which you’re using as an IM interface is always with you, and the fact that it’s always with you serves ability for automated presence information, which becomes interesting. It wouldn’t be meaningful to do that on a PC instant messaging service.”

Obviously as there aren’t any apps directly offering what Nokia Chat does quite yet, Luoma and his team turned elsewhere for inspiration:

“The company we acquired is an interesting one. I’ve been a fan of that for quite a while, so we’ve been looking at that. Also, we collaborated with the Nokia Maps team to find out what makes sense for the location aspect. But for the standard IM and the presence status we looked a number of competitor services – the ones that we found to be most useful were the ones where user’s presence was given a lot of real estate. We felt that the freetext status, and the information on what you are currently doing was a valuable source of information.”

Interestingly, despite being called Nokia Chat and having an prominent instant messaging function, Luoma places a great deal of emphasis on automatic status updates, location, and what you’re doing now, with the text chat functionality adding a rich secondary layer of interaction.

“The element of status presence is more elaborated. The device can update your status automatically, meaning you can express yourself now. This is more valuable in the mobile space”

I’ll shortly be following up with more stories on Nokia Chat, looking closer at the app itself, and talking more to Kristian Luoma on location-based services and the wider take on mobile applications.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on Nokia Chat and location-based IM? Also, if you have any questions about it, let me know and I’ll do my best to hunt down the answers. Leave your comments below.

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