First look: Rally Up, a social network for real friends

I have to admit it: I like location-based social networking apps. Probably my favorite to date has been FourSquare, which I love because I'm the "Mayor" of a couple dozen locations. But this type of app isn't for everyone. My wife, for example, says that she thinks they're a bit too much like stalking (to which I replied, "there's an app for that"), so she won't use them.

Rally Up is a new location-based social network (that's so awkward to say) that has several features that may sway my wife. The free app for iPhone, and soon for iPad, lets you set granular friend preferences. What does that marketing speak mean? Easy -- you set your real friends to "real" on a slider, which means that they get full notifications (i.e., "Steve is at the Blue Bonnet Café) and their check-ins show up in your feed.

The next slider setting is "feed," which is for those folks who you want to know about, but you don't want to receive push notifications from. Next on the slider? "Lurker." Here, you can see what's happening with a friend, but you don't let them see what you're up to. And finally, there's "mute." What do you use mute for? It's for all of those people who you started following because of social pressure, but who you really don't want to follow.

Through the granular friend preferences, Rally Up becomes private microblogging with location. You can let your spouse, family, and close friends know where you are and what you're doing, but the rest of the iPhone-toting world is kept out of the loop. When you check in, you have the choice of either telling those close friends and relatives that you're at the location, or that you're on your way to a location. Check-ins can be accompanied with comments, posts to Facebook, and photos.

The location-based aspect of Rally Up is built upon OpenStreetMap, which provides over 1.7 million points of interest at this time. What's nice about this is that it doesn't rely on Google Maps or any other restricted street map, so no matter where you are, your check-in is probably on there.

Rally Up refers to their integrated messaging as "free text messaging with location smarts," which could make it popular with WiFi iPad users. The friends that you're trying to contact also get a push notification with your direct message.

In real-life use, I found Rally Up to be fun, although it's like a big room with not a lot of people in it right now. All it would take is for an established social networking app such as FourSquare or Gowalla to add in the granular friend preferences, and they too could become a more private location-based microblog. In addition, I already have a ton of friends in these other social networking apps who probably wouldn't appreciate getting a request from me for them to join a new network. However, it would be a good way to start over and get all of those strangers out of your social networking life.

We have a few screenshots of Rally Up in the gallery below, most of which show the iPhone app.