Sunday, October 05, 2014

How to track a travel world record

My brother Øystein and I visited all 19 Norwegian counties in one day.
We celebrated in Finnmark, the last and northernmost one. 

Having visited every country in the world makes me prone to receive a particular question. What next?

I luckily have no problems coming up with slightly mad travel ideas that'll keep my busy and things interesting. Such as visiting 19 countries in 24 hours, travelling to all 19 counties in Norway in the same amount of time or popping by five continents in just one day. All three coincidentally world records.

And why stop there?

Such trips should of course be tracked. Not only to document potential records, also to let friends, family and other curious people know how you are getting along. And to let them see whether everything is going according to plan.

I tested a number of tracking apps on various trip in Norway and abroad, and concluded that Real Time GPS Tracker by Greenalp was by far the best for such trips. 

Greenalp? Never heard about it? Not a big surprise, it is a small Austrian company. A one man show, as a matter of fact.

With Tay and Øystein in Austria,
country number 12 of the day.
Made in Austria
34 year old Florian Lässer of Vienna is the man behind the service. He provided eminent service throughout my trials of the tracking and even on very short notice during the record attempts.

- GPS technology has always been fascinating to me because I have always wondered how a tiny device can measure postition that precisely, with only a few meters off, Lässer told me.

He is an avid mountain hiker. Every Austrian should be, really. Soon after having purchased his first smartphone, he realised that the apps in the market did not provide the features he was looking for.

What he wanted to do was to show his live location to friends or family while hiking or travelling.

- I searched for an app that could run for several hours and which included battery saving algorithms such as switching off GPS between location updates. My searches were not fruitful. So it was time to create my own app, which went live in November 2011, he said.

He expected that a few hundred, possibly a couple of thousand users would download it. Oh, was he wrong.

- Today I have about 2.2 million downloads.

Impressive. And keep in mind that Greenalp is Florian Lässer. And no one else.

Why is your app the best, I asked. But Lässer is a relatively modest man.

- Well, I don't know if it's the best, but it's definitely very powerful. I don't know any other tracking app that provides as many configuration options. You can set various update intervals, see friends on the map, remotely start and stop the tracker, set a private region where no one can track you and even exchange messages with the person being tracked. Plus many more features.

And it's free
It is hard to believe that the app is actually free of charge. And there are no plans to change that either.

- I definitly want to keep the app free for individual users. I'm really proud that the app is used world-wide, both in the industrialised world and in the developing countries. My strategy is to provide the basic app for free, and to add some paid services tailored to business users.

Florian Lässer's dream scenario is to get enough paying business customers to keep the basic version of the app free to individual users, to expand functionality and to be able to hire developers to support more platforms. The tracker is currently only available for Android.

The diversity and the price of the app may explain some of the popularity. But not all of it. There are, after all, not that many record crazy people out there. He knows his users well, and has divided them into three groups.

Safety, business and fun
The first one is people worried about the safety of their loved ones.

- Many parents use the app to check uo on their children, to ensure that they are well. Quite a few also use the app to track elderly people.

Lässer explains that most of those tracking their kids live in the United States.

The second group of users use the app for business purposes. Small companies, in particular, use the app as a reasonable option to expensive tracking systems. Taxi companies and delivery firms are among typical clients.

But Lässer's app is also being used for fun seekers. People and media companies involved in special events and extreme travelling are also among his users.

- This is my favorite category. People use the the tracker in their airplanes, hot-air balloons and paragliders. And an American user shared a video about a weather balloon experiment in a high school class. The tracker was used to measure the altitude and the route of the balloon. And of course to find the balloon after it hit the ground.

Lässer shows great enthusiasm. Not a surprise, given the amount of input he gets from his many users. And he liked my two world records in six days.

- The most recent and definitely one of the most spectacular events was your record trip. In fact your record trip finished very close to the region where I grew up. Another reason for me to follow your trip on the live map.

And Lässer wasn't the only one intrigued by the last world record attempt. The 19 countries in 24 hours record received massive world-wide media attention by over 100 media companies on six continents.

You can see the route we travelled to visit 19 countries in one day below. Tracked by Florian Lässer's Greenalp.

Map and tracking by: