Yobongo: Forget What Your Parents Said About Not Talking To Strangers
Believe it or not, in the 1990s, it used to be considered fun to go into a chat room on the Internet and talk to complete strangers. We all did it, if only to see what exactly was going on out there. The fundamental idea of being able to connect instantly with anyone no matter where they are in the world is an interesting one. Then spammers, creeps, and weirdos came and ruined everything. This is something Caleb Elston has been thinking about for a while. Finally, this past October, he had fully fleshed out the idea for what he wanted to do, so he left his job as VP of Product at Justin.tv to start Yobongo.
Yobongo is best described as a way to chat in realtime with anyone around you, no matter if you know them or not. Currently, this is done via an iPhone app which the service is in the process of testing. It uses the phone’s built-in location sensors to tell where you are, and place you in a room with others around you. The idea is to see what others are talking about, and potentially hop into the conversation yourself.
While Elston realizes this idea will still freak some people out due to the stigma that chat rooms got in the 90s, he thinks a combination of location, simplicity, and real-world identity are the key. And they didn’t go into building Yobongo thinking about chat rooms, instead they envisioned what a mobile communication service would be like if it were built from the ground-up today.
And that’s really the key. “We view it as a communication system rather than a social network,” Elston says. “We’re not competing with Facebook, we’re competing with the telephone, a technology that has worked for 150 years,” he continues. Obviously, that’s a lofty goal. But the best ideas usually start as lofty goals.
When I got a chance to see Yobongo in action, I liked two things immediately: its simplicity and its design. The app isn’t cluttered with buttons or options, you simply load it up and are put into a room in which you can chat with others. And if you decide you want to carry on a one-on-one conversation, you can message someone and establish a connection. This connection continues to exist within the app even as you jump back to the general chat room. And the UI to manage this is very nice.
Again, to be clear, Yobongo is still in its early testing stages. As such, the team isn’t quite ready to open it up to the entire world just yet. Part of the reason is that they’re going to monitor all the accounts being created to make sure they’re legitimate people. They have some tactics for doing this, that Elston hopes they can perfect and scale for when they do open the service up. Yes, a part of this authentication is Facebook, but they’re not requiring a Facebook account to sign up.
When the service remains in closed beta, there is a wait list on Yobonogo.com to put your name on. As a special for TechCrunch readers, using this link will get you priority access to the beta, moving you to the front of the line.
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