Developer interview: Juha Huttenen of Grafetee

October 18, 2012
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Smartphones have found their use in just about any application today, and crime-fighting is just one of them. Straight from Finland (the hometown of Nokia), the developers of Grafetee have developed a system through which users can explore and collaborate based on their localities. Currently, citizens and authorities from Finland have found a very effective way of fighting crime through the app.

Grafetee allows users to explore, discover and bookmark events, places and locations that they can then share with friends. The app is so handy even the police in Finland are using it.

Grafetee’s development is actually funded by the Finnish government, and it’s interesting to learn how this kind of app can help solve problems and find solutions elsewhere. The app is now available on both iOS and Android platforms as free downloads. We caught up with Juha Huttunen, CEO at Grafetee, and got his insights on the app and its practical functionalities.

What’s the background?

The background for Grafetee is that we wanted to have an app that would enable people to find all kinds of interesting content near their location and bookmark places they need to later find. Me and Arttu were both finding a new apartment and were quite frustrated that there was no easy way to collect all the open houses you wanted to your phone so that you’d have them with you when needed. Thus we built one.

From business perspective we wanted to create a platform that would enable organizations to mobilize their location based data for consumers to view either through the Grafetee mobile app or our customizable website or even crowdsource location based data as the Finnish Police is doing with Grafetee. We had done some small testing earlier but started building this for real in early April this year. The summer we spent piloting the app in Finland with some local partners like the Police and now are launching Grafetee internationally.

Our goal is that Grafetee would be the app many if not most businesses use to broadcast their location specific data and the platform of choice to crowdsource location speficic data. Likewise we aim it to be the go to app for consumers wanting to find interesting things near their location.

We just released a minute long video on Friday showing what you can do with the app. It’s on our site and also on YouTube. That pretty well also shows the things we think make Grafetee unique among many other location based apps.

Can you tell me what makes your app unique?

Even though there is a location based chat or bulletin board in Grafetee the things that sets us apart from the others are:

1. Viewing third party content around you.

At the moment these include e.g. Wikipedia, Foursquare, Yelp, Flickr and Instagram but we can add new content very quickly when ever we or our users come across something interesting. We have some local data sources as well like e.g. UK real estate, Finnish real estate, Finnish local reviews, Finnish lunch lists and so on that are only visible to users in their relevant areas.

In a way you can think this as an RSS reader that just reads stuff related to real world locations around you rather than web articles. It’s intended to help you discover your surroundings when e.g. in a new city. A few of our users have said that Grafetee is by far the best travel guide to a new city even though Grafetee is not really a travel guide app as such.

2. Bookmarking locations from any website to your phone without the need to register with our bookmarklet.

The user can create their own feeds and collect places from any website for later use and share easily with friends (directly from your phone’s contact list rather than Facebook integration etc.). Combined with the data from point one above this makes for some interesting use cases. I’ve written two examples (mostly pictures) of using the private feeds which you can download here: for real estate (PDF) and for travel (PDF).

We also offer an “Add to Grafetee” button for websites allowing their users to bookmark their locations with a single click on the site (more here, it is simply a few rows of javascript embedded to a site). That makes the described use cases even more powerful.

Our first partner to use this is the biggest real estate site in Finland. We’d love to get more similar partners especially in the US and the UK. With our bookmarklet the user can achieve the same on any site though, the button just makes it a bit easier. The bookmarklet does automatically get most content and location right from sites as TripAdvisor, Trulia, Zillow, Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com and many others, so it is pretty great feature even without the button.

3. Grafetee is also an easy platform for any organization that either wants to broadcast location based data or crowdsource it.

A few examples of this (in addition to the global feeds we have like Wikipedia etc.) are the Finnish Police and a local startup here in Helsinki. The Police wants to crowdsource tips from the public related to security. Thus we created a service for them in a matter of hours using Grafetee. It’s called Lähivinkki (in Finnish unfortunately). Now they have that website where people leave the tips and in the mobile it is one feed in Grafetee. They just launched it nationally and are talking about it next week in an international event to other police forces.

We also did a similar thing to a local startup who wanted to launch their own location based service for buying and selling services and used goods. Instead of using months to develop software they asked us for help after seeing the Police service in action. We created the service for the startup using Grafetee and did it in two days most of which was graphics work, i.e. designing their website. The service is yet to be launched so I can’t yet point you to it, they will launch it in Finland first late this month and later go international.

Grafetee is also used by e.g. a local school district here in Helsinki. They are piloting location based teaching methods with Grafetee. It is a very flexible platform for anyone interested in broadcasting or crowdsourcing location based data in any field or business.

Check out some screenshots below. Grafetee is a free download on Google Play, and also works on iOS devices.

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