LightPole doesn't think of itself as a search hub, an RSS reader, a mobile apps platform, or a maps source, even though the mobile app, publicly released on Tuesday, is all these things rolled into one.
LightPole's interface is a bit like Viigo's, but instead of hosting various news channels, LightPole (mostly) hosts channels for interactive services, targeting people on the move who are looking for activities around them.
People seeking a nearby hot spot, for example, would open the channel for Hotspotr, which sniffs out W-iFi cafes and other Internet gateways. MappyHour acts similarly for happy hour joints, and Zvents offers listings of local happenings. Perennial favorites Yelp and Yahoo Local are in here, too. LightPole will search your neighborhhood based on your city or postal code, or by using GPS--whether integrated with the phone or as an external device.
Though dealing with divergent channels, LightPole serves up a unified experience, providing both a map view and list view for each search result. People can exert a measure of control over each view, but largely remain passengers. There's the ability to page through options, sort results, share points of interest with a friend, and switch services--from MappyHour to Yelp, for instance--but you'll find no directions engine here. If you follow LightPole's intentions, you'll stick to the adjacent neighborhood and be proficient enough a map-reader to get around.
Saving a point of interest as a favorite leads to the best feature: the catalog of special spots that is your own personalized channel. On LightPole's channel list, it's called My Places. Here you'll find favorites from all partner services gathered in one spot. Best yet, My Places is the only channel that doesn't include an advertising link up top. The location-based advertising model is common for this type of discovery service aggregator, and, as LightPole CEO Doug Klein confirmed, is an ideal framework for serving call-to-action coupons and ads that help businesses attract patrons by proposing a deal.
With its first public release after a year in quiet beta, LightPole's free app looks promising. While not swimming in features, LightPole is fairly easy to use on any Java-enabled phone and delivers reliably predictable results.
With an emphasis on helping content publishers get in front of users, LightPole should also be able to line up more popular partner services. This, along with giving users a degree more control in programming and deleting relevant channels, is crucial as LightPole expands its partner base. While Yelp and Yahoo Local are big wins, other partnerships such as one with The Bathroom Diaries will fall short in shepherding critical mass.
Download LightPole over the air by signing up on www.lightpole.net.
LightPole's navigational secrets
To zoom in while in map mode, press the center key and jog or scroll the center control to the left. Jog it to the right to zoom out. To reset your location, which is represented on a map by a red balloon, pressing the star key (*) will let the balloon follow your navigation to anywhere else on the map. Press the center key again to make the location your new nerve center.