Falcon, a free iPhone app, is bringing a social aspect to navigation at Duke. The app can guide students to nearby spots such as buildings and classrooms or stages and rides at a music festival or fair. Users can mark their own locations, such as their parking spot or dorm room, and can also send locations to their friends. The Chronicle’s Sienna Liu talked with two of the founders of the app, Matthew Austin and Ali Baghshomali, about Falcon and its launch at Duke.
The Chronicle: Why did you build Falcon?
Ali Baghshomali: The idea first came up when we were students at UCLA. We were around campus when people just constantly asked us, “Where is this building?” “Where is that building?” These people were either students or just visitors to the campus.
Matthew Austin: I also remember our first year at UCLA. I remembered just not knowing where anything was on campus. I tried to find my classrooms that first quarter, and it was just a nightmare—I got lost so many times. Even today, I’m still not sure what every building is. I’m sure Duke is the same way.
You know in 2013 we all have smart phones in our pockets and Google has really solved that problem for driving. But at a lot of places like a campus, a theme park or a music festival, you are not going to take out your phone and use a turn-by-turn direction. So we want to build something that will be more tailored to those types of situations when we are walking around.
TC: So Falcon is more customized for college students than, say, Google Map and other navigation apps?
AB: Definitely. We really feel the way we built it is simpler and easier to use.
TC: It’s basically a compass, right?
AB: Yes. The most important thing for us is that it points to where you’re going. With our experience that’s always what we would tell people [about] how to go to places. You’ll never tell them, “Hey go fifteen steps ahead, then go up the stairs and take your right.” You’ll just point to them and you’re like, Just go that way and you’ll find the building.” So we took that experience and put it into the app.
TC: I know Falcon has a social feature. Can you tell me more about how the “locating your friends” feature works?
MA: That’s actually a very cool part of the app. So if you want to meet up with your friends, you can actually send them any location that you have.... So if I’m in class and I want them to meet me after class, I can send them a message that has my location in it. Then they’ll be able to follow Falcon to find me.
TC: Can you connect Falcon to your contacts and Facebook to locate your friends?
MA: Exactly. You can sign up with your Facebook or put in your phone number. Then it finds your friends who are using Falcon, and you can message one another.
TC: Is Falcon now tailored for Duke students? Does it have all the locations, events and maybe even restaurants?
MA: We have 90 locations at Duke right now, and we’re still updating. What’s also cool about Falcon is that anyone using the app can contribute. So if you have a cool location that you found on campus or nearby, you can actually mark it on your Falcon app and make it public and then everybody else who’s using Falcon at Duke will be able to find it as well.
TC: But what if some information the users provide are incorrect or misleading?
MA: We have a way for people to leave feedback in the app. They can message us directly.
TC: Will there be new features and updates added to Falcon? Because you know, people are always expecting something new.
MA: One thing we have right now is you can make maps of places, like to make a map of Duke. We’re actually planning on building it so that you can make maps of your favorite locations and share them with your friends.... But we are also looking to make a way where you can give permissions to let friends see where you are, and your locations will update as you move.
TC: Is there anything else about Falcon that you want to share with us?
AB: One thing is that we’re working on the Android version now and it’ll be out pretty soon. That will also be free. Our goal is to keep the app free for as long as it benefits all the students...
One more thing is people can message us through the app or on Twitter.
MA: We build the app for students based on our own experience, so we want it to be a great tool for students. The more we can get from people, the better we can make it.