Loopt Tries to Adapt Around Facebook’s Places With a Richer Interface

A very early pioneer in the location-based social networking space, Loopt is adapting to a new reality where Facebook is fast-becoming the central hub for location sharing.

It’s launching a new version of its app today with a simpler interface that better marries its own check-in data with Facebook’s location service, Places.

Loopt was one of the original launch partners for Places in August, and the company followed by integrating it in October.

Think of the new version as a more in-depth way of navigating your friend’s whereabouts than what Facebook currently offers. It seems to be a bet that Loopt can be an interesting interface for location in the same way that companies like Tweetdeck positioned itself as a more high-powered interface for Twitter.

“Facebook is going to be the platform for the Internet,” said Loopt founder Sam Altman. “We can’t compete with these guys head-on but we can use this to make what we do better.”

The homepage has been reduced from a grid of buttons to just five. Loopt continues to offer a full range of ways to share your location — from always-on tracking for a special group of close friends you choose to check-ins for your broader social network.

It also has a map view of where your friends are, which Facebook has yet to build. It supports location text messages, called Pings, that lower the cost of requesting and pushing information about your whereabouts to friends.

On top of that, it lets you see your friend’s favorite places based on their check-in history, which Facebook doesn’t do. The main news feed also shows a mix of media like photo check-ins and maps.

The question is will these additional features be enough for it keep its users actively engaged.

As a company, one of Loopt’s weaknesses is that it was too early to market. It raised funding starting in 2005, before the iPhone and the emergence of Apple’s app store, which drastically lowered the cost of acquiring new users. Before the app store, time-consuming deals with carriers were necessary to get in front of consumers. Those early disadvantages later allowed companies like Foursquare to eclipse Loopt in media attention and growth pace last year.

However, Foursquare now finds itself in a similar position after it spurned talks with Facebook to pursue an independent path and raise $20 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz. Today it also carries the burden of high investor expectations paired with Facebook’s ability to cannibalize its core utility.

Other players in the space like Scvngr and Booyah, which raised funding from Facebook investor Accel Partners, are more differentiated with richer gameplay.

Loopt’s changes are a step in the right direction, but may not be enough.