The Past, Present, and Future of Social, Local, and Mobile — SoLoMo

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Whenever you’re building something new, it helps to look back on the history of your industry to understand why things developed the way they did and learn about what worked and what didn’t. Having a deep knowledge base and appreciation for the companies that preceded you can help your product and company make the right moves to succeed.

I’ve been pondering a lot about ribl’s space — social, local, mobile — and thought it would be helpful to provide the history of the convergence of these concepts, the companies that forged this movement, how the arena has progressed over the years, and how it may change in the future. By no means is this a comprehensive chronicle; I’m only focusing on the consumer aspect of SoLoMo and I’m sure there are many companies and events I’ve left out. Rather, it’s a brief overview of the major occurrences, trends, and entities in the space, and I hope I’ve done it justice.

How the term “SoLoMo” came to be

The term “SoLoMo” — Social, Local, and Mobile all smashed into one word — was coined by venture capitalist John Doerr back in 2010 while working on a presentation with his fellow partners at Kleiner Perkins. Doerr’s team saw the potential of Facebook’s Open Graph, combined with the rise of the iPhone and Android smartphones and their corresponding app markets, to constantly connect consumers wherever they are. They decided to create a word that encapsulated this trend, and SoLoMo was born.

Early days of SoLoMo

The SoLoMo movement actually started 10 years prior to the buzzword’s formation.

Dodgeball, launched in 2000, is believed to be the first location-based social network available in the U.S. and was created by NYU (yeah, alma mater!) students Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert. The smartphone as we know it didn’t exist at this time, so users had to text their location to the service, which would then return information about friends and interesting things in their area. Dodgeball was purchased by Google in 2005 and eventually shut down.

Around the time Dodgeball was acquired, Loopt was launched. Loopt was a once popular location-based mobile app and website that used real-time location updating to show users where their friends were and what they were doing on a map. The company was acquired by payments processor Green Dot Corporation in 2012.

The check-in craze begins

A bunch of new companies focused on the “check-in”, where users used their phone to explicitly announce to their friends exactly where they were, launched in subsequent years.

Gowalla and Brightkite, both created in 2007, were the first check-in apps to gain popularity. But Foursquare really brought the check-in phenomenon to the masses.

Created by Dodgeball founder Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai in 2008, Foursquare gained a dedicated user base by gamifying the check-in process and awarding “mayorships” to the people who checked in to a specific location most often. Foursquare popularized the check-in to such a level that other popular social media sites like Facebook and Yelp both implemented the feature into their mobile apps.

The check-in phenomenon has waned quite a bit, which forced Foursquare to bifurcate into two apps: Swarm, which maintains the concept of notifying your friends of your location via the check-in, and Foursquare, which provides local recommendations based on your location.

Connecting with friends and contacts around you

The next phase of SoLoMo entailed connecting with people you know, or people who know the people you know, who are around you. Got that?

The big players in this space included Glancee (launched in 2010), Sonar (2011), and Highlight (2012). These apps leveraged Facebook login and smartphones’ location tracking to notify users if anyone they were directly or indirectly connected to were around their vicinity.

The popularity of “ambient location social networking” was relatively short-lived. Glancee wound up being purchased by Facebook in 2012 and shut down, but the technology was integrated into the social network’s Nearby Friends feature launched last year. Sonar died in 2013, and Highlight still operates today with little fanfare. Fellow DC startup SocialRadar is working on reviving this space, and the app also integrates other social networks like Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn in addition to Facebook to give users a more comprehensive view of to whom they’re near.

Connecting people who don’t know each other but are nearby

After the ambient location social networking space fizzled, the trend of connecting with people around you whom youdon’t know gained steam.

The most popular applications of this concept have been hooking up and dating. Grindr, an app where gay and bisexual men can locate other users near them, led the way with a launch back in 2009. Tinder, the dating app where you can see members of the opposite sex near you and swipe right if you like them or left if you don’t, is one of the most popular location-based apps around.

There have also been a number of location-based chat apps, such as WhosHere, ShoutOut, Yobongo, and many others, where random users who are in close proximity to one another can hold spontaneous chat conversations with each other. Local DC startups Yapper and LokayMe play in the same arena.

Another version of this concept is portrayed by NextDoor, a private social network that directly connects you with the people who live in your neighborhood. Though not necessarily mobile, as NextDoor doesn’t provide any information to you outside of your neighborhood, it certainly forges a strong connection between you and your neighbors whom you may not know.

Location-based messaging

Messaging looks to be the next iteration of SoLoMo. The difference between “messaging” and “chat” may be subtle but the variation is certainly there.

Yik Yak is an anonymous, text-only, location-based messaging app that is blowing up on college campuses. The app acts as a local bulletin board and allows you to view messages from people who are within 10 miles of you. Because the app is anonymous, you don’t need a username, which makes it really easy to start using the app. You can also say whatever you want, which is good because you can express yourself without repercussion, but it’s also bad because that can lead to instances of bullying and bomb threats.

Drop is an app that allows you to leave messages for friends and family at specific locations and they’ll only receive those messages when they arrive at those locations. It’s a pretty cool concept that can surprise you with messages as you move about everyday.

And of course, major social networks with “messaging” aspects like Facebook and Twitter have incorporated location-based features into their mobile apps.

Where does ribl fit in?

Ribl is a confluence of some of the aforementioned location-based concepts.

It’s similar to Yik Yak in that it’s a message board where you can see posts from users around you, but ribl is multimedia (you can post and view text, images, video, and links), isn’t anonymous, and lends itself more toward discovery of local content instead of jokes and threats.

Like location-based chat apps, you can use ribl to converse and connect with people around you (whether you know them or not), but it’s not a chat app per se and is more about connecting people with relevant content about their location.

We believe we’re building something pretty unique that will allow you to discover and learn about your surroundings and find out what’s happening around you.

What’s the future of SoLoMo?

SoLoMo has been an overused buzzword since it was coined in 2010. And as you can see, there have been a few different themes of SoLoMo and many different companies involved, yet no one has quite figured it out and its potential has yet to be fully realized.

I can’t tell you what the future of SoLoMo is, but we at ribl are certainly trying to build it, and we hope you come along for the ride.

What are your thoughts on the past, present, and future of the social, local, and mobile space, and how did we do summarizing its history? Let us know in the comments, and please share this article if you enjoyed it!

Image courtesy of SIM Partners

Written by

Dad and husband! Growing @meter_io and @utu_trust. #crypto, #startup, ex-marketer @capitals, power napper

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