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Do We Really Want to Talk to Strangers Based on Our Location?

March 13th, 2011 03:26 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

With SXSW well under way in Austin, Texas, the servers behind apps like Beluga, GroupMe, Kik and FastSociety must be working overtime. After all, people like talking to their friends, right?

In this same batch of apps, we’ve seen another phenomenon, though – apps that make it quicker an easier to talk to people you don’t know – and we have one big question: Do people really want to talk to strangers?

Two apps that immediately come to mind in the sphere are Yobongo and Ask Around, both of which use location to bring strangers together in a group chat.

For Yobongo, the value proposition is that a group chat room based on your location and a number of other signals can make it easier to meet the people around you. Co-founder Caleb Elston distinguished Yobongo from other group messaging apps, explaining that “those products are focused on organizing your close friends around very specific topics or events. We are focused on ambient real-time communication with real people you may not even know.”

Ask Around, on the other hand, is “a location-centric app that lets people join, save and share conversations taking place in their immediate vicinity.” The basic idea here is that the people around you can offer a value that services like Google cannot, based on the simple fact that you have  common location. Why is the train stopped? Google might not know, but the person five cars up might.

So let’s look at these two scenarios a bit more: Yobongo wants to make it easier to meet people around me by breaking the ice a little bit and Ask Around wants to help out with local search by providing a way to quickly ask people around me questions in real time.

Say I go to the bar and I’m the shy type. I sit down, order a beer, and whip out my trusty iPhone. I open up Yobongo and I see it says I’m chatting with 10 people near Austin. How long do I sit at the bar and chat with people on my iPhone before the ice has been broken enough to overcome my shyness and finally say “Hey, let’s cross the room and talk face to face”? Since this is a chat based around location, it’s also very real-time. There’s only so much time before one of us potentially moves on to another location and makes the jump from one room to another.

Here’s the thing: if I’m the type of person that can’t go to a place and meet people face to face, is two seconds of chatting on my phone really going to break down the barriers of introduction enough to get past that? I’m not so sure it is.

Now, Ask.com says that Ask Around can be the service I go to when I want to know about what’s going on around me.

We saw some of this location-centric chat behavior evolving naturally in our flagship app and took the hint that there was real interest in having a discussion with those people around you.  Launching Ask Around as a separate app dedicated wholly to this use case lets everyone explore the shared experience of location. Want to have a behind the scenes conversation with friends in the bar? Predict the next play in the game to those watching it with you? Find out where off campus people are heading tonight?  Discover what the crowd across the street is looking at? Ask Around is the app for that.

With Ask Around, the group conversation is entirely public – just as with Yobongo – so I’m not sure how much I would use it for a “behind the scenes” conversation, but what about the rest of these ideas? Do I want to predict the next play with people around me? Is this supposing that I’m at the game or a sports bar? And if so, why does the location actually matter? It would seem we’re talking about a topic, not a location. And if the crowd across the street is looking at something, why not cross the street and look yourself?

The biggest question for a service like Ask Around is, who is on the other end? When that hypothetical train stops, do we all jump on Ask Around to talk to people in our immediate location? The idea seems to be based around asking questions to people in a vicinity, but is a location a strong enough bond to get strangers communicating? And if everyone goes on there to ask questions, who’s doing the answering?

So, the question really is with group messaging for strangers – how do you keep both parties interested on both ends? What’s the incentive to keep Ask Around running on your phone if you don’t have a question? For Yobongo, is a mix of location and social signals enough to match user expectations and bring the serendipitous connections promised?

Bringing location explicitly into the formula of communication with strangers is a relatively new thing and we’re sure to see more of it, but we’re not so sure that it’s there quite yet. What do you think? What apps have you seen that do it just right? Has Yobongo brought you serendipity or Ask Around information you wouldn’t have otherwise found? So far, it hasn’t for me.

Source: Do We Really Want to Talk to Strangers Based on Our Location?

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