If the whole world were a game board, would you play?
Seattle-based entrepreneur Scott Kendall kicked off his show-and-tell to the Seattle Quantified Self group this February with a picture of Heron Island. Just 2,600 feet long and 980 feet at its widest, the tiny town off the Australian coast is small enough that exploring the whole thing is not impossible. Instead, it’s an enticing challenge.
That’s the spell Kendall wants to cast on the globe with quadstreaker, an app that is part game, part chronicle and altogether a new way to look at location: as a quest.
Launched publicly today after 18 months of development, quadstreaker is an iPhone app that divides the world’s land into 174 million virtual squares called “quads.” As you move into new quads, those squares are automatically colored in, or “streaked,” as your avatar moves over them. Over time you get a game board-type map of every place you touch — whether it’s in the middle of Seattle or the middle of nowhere — and a running tally of how much of a given neighborhood, city, state or country you have left to visit.
Kendall, 38, calls it quantified exploration. And he’s convinced it’ll catch.
“Place defines all of us and it’s not being captured fully,” Kendall tells me. “Our aim is to be definitive. This is the ‘move graph’ app.”
Kendall has already streaked a path through the mobile location and social space. He worked with Michael Sharon and Naveen Selvadurai at early location startup Socialight several years ago. Sharon went on to develop location at Facebook. Selvadurai co-founded Foursquare.
Kendall was also at San Francisco startup Threadsy, a unified inbox that Facebook bought last year.
Along with lineage, Kendall’s got dough. A sometime investor, he supports the five-person team building quadstreaker in Seattle’s Pioneer Square himself.
Kendall is relatively new to the Seattle startup scene. He and his wife, angel investor Enmi Sung Kendall, moved here from the Bay Area just a year and a half ago.
That’s about as long as quadstreaker’s been in development. About 1,500 test users have streaked 300,000 unique quads worldwide and offered plenty of feedback in the process, Kendall said.
In that time the company has built up its custom mapping database and addressed some ongoing challenges. Twenty cities, all in the U.S., come in smaller, urban sized quads and include neighborhood subdivisions (“You’ve streaked 50 percent of Capitol Hill!”). The rest of the globe remains a grid of 1 square-kilometer squares. For now.
A known issue for the app is past travel. I’ve lived six years in Seattle, but even the world’s most restless nomad starts at square one on quadstreaker. Kendall acknowledged it might take a two-tiered streaking system — one verified, another claimed — to give users a truer sense of completion.
A bigger headache is battery life. Location apps have a nasty habit of sucking smartphone batteries dry, but Kendall says he’s on it. A built-in movement switch — the app stops tracking location when you’ve stopped moving — saves enough battery, he claims, to streak your quads over a full day of typical smartphone use.
It won’t work on a road trip, but it’s a start.
Oh, and that’s the other thing. When I heard Kendall present at the Quantified Self meetup, I figured quadstreaker would be best suited to the show-off travel crowd. Turns out he’s aiming to be more inclusive than that. More inclusive, even, than the Yelps and Foursquares of the world that focus on “place” where there is a concentration of people.
Kendall grew up in a Vermont town made of mountains. Even where there are no restaurants to check into, there are quads to streak. It’s not “travel,” really. Just movement.
“No matter where you are,” he said, “you can explore.”
All you have to do is leave your phone on.
Which brings us to everyone’s favorite FAQ — privacy. Quadstreaker does not share where you are in real-time, and only shares your quad-streaked map — your “lifeboard” — with your friends on the site, with whom you can compare geographic coverage. I can see myself using quadstreaker exclusively as a personal checklist, but Kendall insists social links yield best results.
To streak one last, particularly difficult quad in Pioneer Square made inaccessible by fences and train yards, he had to not only walk to the end of a big CenturyLink parking garage, but stick his phone out the side of the building.
If he couldn’t have shared the acomplishment, he said, he might have felt just a little more … well, weird.
The app is free. As for monetization plans for quadstreaker, Kendall says he’s not focused on that, but sponsored content could come to the lifeboard later.
If, that is, we all play along.