It’s all about new mobile technologies at this year’s SXSW.
SXSW saw the launch or re-launch of several major mobile-social products aimed at converting your social networks into powerful mobile tools. Even prior to the conference, the hype was huge around Highlight with blogger Robert Scoble knocking it back a peg before the show even started. The iOS app operates by linking up with your Facebook account. It then alerts you to other friends, or friends of friends, who are using Highlight around you. The uses for this app are numerous, but think of being out on a Friday night in a high traffic area. You’re out with a few friends, and notice a good friend-of-a-friend is out too. Maybe you want to meet-up for a drink? Highlight makes this potentially awkward situation a little less awkward.
Highlight wasn’t the only app touting this functionality. With its most recent upgrade, Ban.jo now features a better user interface and touts that it has the “most robust location technology that taps into powerful social networks… to provide an on the ground view of what’s happening anyplace, anytime.” Like similar apps featured at SXSW, Ban.jo mines location data from other networking sites and presents it to the user with a map of people nearby.
Similar to Highlight and Ban.jo is Glancee. This app uses your Facebook information to present you with a list of people who are near you and with whom you share similar interests. What makes it different from Ban.jo and Highlight is that it’s focused on starting conversations with those people around using a simple chat function rather than telling you where these people are.
Sonar is a little different than its rivals at this year’s SXSW. Instead of automatically making you aware of those around you, it functions via check-ins, similar to Foursquare. But here’s the kicker: it has the ability to filter the people around you, by analyzing your common interests, mutual friends and other factors through the syncing of your other social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.). It also has the ability to list your friends first, ranking the rest of your peeps according to who’s most relevant or who you should probably meet.
The startup trend of the year may be “social discovery”, but there are several questions hanging over each of these apps. The first is adoption rate. If no one uses them, or rather, a small subsection of San Francisco tech elites use them, the apps won’t have a high adoption rate. Therefore, it will be difficult for these companies to make money through advertising. They will either have to sell their technology to a larger social firm (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) or start charging for the service (hard when there are free rivals). Furthermore, how do you serve ads against these products? Will local ads see click-through rates that keep advertisers happy? Only time will tell.