Life360 moves beyond the nuclear family, adding social features to its tracking app

When Life360 launched in 2008, it built and designed its app around the principle that families wanted to know their members’ locations, and not just for suspicious spouses to keep track of their husbands. The idea was to create a tight-knit social network where the most sensitive real-time location could be shared, allowing families not only to communicate within a private group but coordinate their activities in real-time.

The model proved popular, and Life360 now has 17 million families using the app, but the company has come to the realization that this kind of ultra-exclusive social network would be useful beyond the nuclear family. Life360 plans to launch on Thursday a new feature called Circles in its iOS and Android apps that allows members to share their location on a temporary basis.

“Our users have been telling us how they wish there was a way to stay connected with non-family members, such as close friends, babysitters, dog walkers, Little League teams and more” co-founder and CEO Chris Hulls said in a statement. “Circles offers exactly what our users have asked for, with the ability to set custom privacy controls appropriate for each Circle.”

Life360 Family Map - iPhoneCircles work similar to Google+’s like-named feature, allowing you to create classes of contacts. Within those circles, members can send messages and check in to locations manually, but they don’t have automatic access to Life360’s core real-time location and geo-fencing features. An individual member can chose to share his or her location with a circle temporarily, much like Glympse users share their locations so they can coordinate arrival times and meeting places.

Life360 is building one of the new wave of anti-social networks — apps that contain much of the functionality and social communications tool of a Facebook(s fb), but with far stricter parameters on what information is shared and with whom it is shared. Path is focused on closer relationships rather than massive group sharing, while Couple (formerly pair) is a messaging app that connects exactly two people.

Life360 is trying to set itself apart by making the family its primary focus, but with Circles it seems to be lifting some of the constraints on that network.