Find yourself missing the chat rooms of the 1990′s? Fear not. The newest start-up craze is bringing chat room style communications to your Smartphone, and one of the most prolific recently released Apps is Yobongo.
Yobongo, based in San Francisco, was released on March 7, 2011 by Caleb Elston and David Kasper, both formerly affiliated with Justin.tv. Both founders left Justin.tv in October 2010 to focus their time on the App, stating, “It is clear to us that there will emerge new ways to communicate as a result of the proliferation of always connected location aware mobile devices….We believe Yobongo will be a new way to communicate and share with people nearby from your mobile device.”
The App is available for iPhone and iPod Touch, and has garnered strong buzz in the last few weeks. The App allows people to join text chats with small groups of people in a particular area. You can download the App, sign in, and it will automatically place you in a chat room based on location. The conversations within chat rooms can vary from “Where’s a good Italian restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area?” to “What’s the weather forecast for tomorrow?”. The company encourages the use of real names and photos, and it also features a set of guidelines about App etiquette (though it’s admittedly pretty common sense, including “Be Friendly. Be Respectful. Be Authentic”.) Currently, the App is only available in San Francisco, Austin, and New York; however, Yobongo hopes for continued expansion.
Yobongo’s release comes amidst a wave of locality based social networking Apps. These include Crowdbeacon – which allows users to ask Yelp style questions based on their geographical locations, Ask Around – which uses a question and answer format to connect people in similar places, and GroupMe – which allows for group text messaging. To be successful, Yobongo will need to quickly differentiate itself from other similar products while simultaneously building a large user base.
In terms of social networking trends, what is most interesting about the locality Apps, which is particularly well articulated by Yobongo, is that social network Apps appear to be moving away from specific closed networks towards open networking. Elston states that, “”This is the best way to communicate with people who are around you and start to build new relationships” and one of the tag lines on the new site is to “make new connections”. 2011, then, appears to be the year to not just strengthen your current network, but to reach outside the comfort of your personal network and forge new links.