Passing through Manhattan a few years ago on my way to Miami, I left a voicemail for friends whom I'd hoped to see while I was in New York City. Two days later they left a return message saying: "Sorry we missed you. We're in Miami. Here's our hotel number." They were in the same hotel as me, one floor up. "Wow," said my friend, "that's karma."
For those who don't believe that some spiritual force throws people together, however, there's Dopplr, a website for frequent flyers that takes the luck out of meeting up. Dopplr which launched its free public service in December allows you to plug in all your travel plans for months ahead, and see at the click of a button which friends' and colleagues' journeys will overlap with yours. "We're against lonely travel," says Lisa Sounio, one of Dopplr's co-founders. While working as a business consultant in Helsinki, Sounio grew tired of trying to arrange meetings with peripatetic colleagues. "We found we were traveling from conference to conference, spending weeks trying to get together," she says. "Only later would we find out we'd been in the same city."
So Sounio and four other founders built the Dopplr site early last year, and invited about 500 heavy travelers from technology and media companies to road test the software. Since the Dopplr users were logging thousands of air miles a month, the site quickly became an élite spot for hyper-wired globe-trotters, many of whom are now hooked on checking each others' movements.
Although these days anyone can join that high-flying club by plugging in their travel itineraries on Dopplr, the site remains exclusive permission to view another member's itinerary is by invitation only. "This is a high-value market, with a particular kind of lifestyle," says chief technology officer Matt Biddulph of Dopplr's membership. "This is for people who travel a lot."
For more casual wanderers, social networks like Facebook and Tripit have similar applications, so you can let your friends know you're on a Caribbean beach. But unlike Facebook, Dopplr has shunned online advertising, betting instead that it will make money through premium services for large global companies, which need to track the international movements of thousands of employees. Those companies could use Dopplr services, for example, to plan meetings around board members' travel, or to schedule appointments with outside contacts when they cross paths with employees.
Of course, some of us feel that one joy of travel is its serendipity: the notion that, even in the era of text messaging and ubiquitous email access, you never know whom you might meet on the road. But if karma isn't quite working out for you, Dopplr could be the next best thing. www.dopplr.com
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