Friday, March 9, 2012

Social Discovery is BIG (and Creepy?) at SXSW

Possibly the next big thing in social media

There's a new trend in social media and application development, and it's called "social discovery". If you haven't already heard the term a lot, you will soon. SXSW is famously an event where a lot of startups get to make their first major marks on the world. Some fizzle out. Some are Twitter. Quite a few are betting on the "social discovery" element as the next big thing. Some might simply find the whole thing a little too creepy. On the other hand, some find Google and Facebook creepy. Either way, the trend is here, and of course, there are always opportunities for businesses to take advantage.

What is social discovery?

The concept of social discovery is not really new. You might say it's been a valuable part of social networks for years, and an area where some of them have improved as time has gone on. Early location-based services like Foursquare have gone on to improve the discovery part of the equation overtime. I'd say Facebook will be getting better in this department as it recently acquired one such service in Gowalla. The Gowalla team is said to be working on the Timeline feature, so that could play a big role in Facebook's "social discovery" strategy. The Open Graph apps are certainly key.

Wikipedia's description of a social discovery platform indicates it as one that lets users search for other users, either by physical location or by other criteria (age, name, interests, gender, etc.). Under that definition, you could include sites like Pinterest and its clones, but the physical location part seems to be more connected to the broader trend, particularly at SXSW.

AdWeek calls social discovery one of the five trends to watch at the event.

Uberlife's focus is extending online connections into the real world. It's been available in the UK since January, but just launched here in the U.S. WebProNews interviewed CEO Sanchita Saha about the service, which she says sets it self apart from others that focus more on people discovery. "Uberlife is more about groups of people," she says.

She says where Google+ hangouts are about hanging out online, Uberlife is more about finding groups of people to hang out with offline. "At the moment, we have no people discovery in our network. You can download the app and find out what hangouts are happening near me. What are people meeting up about around me? And that could be hangouts based around interests. It could be around a gig that you really want to go and see that's going on nearby, and you really want to find a bunch of people to go to that with."

You can sign up through Facebook or Twitter. It looks at your Facebook likes.


Privacy may be an issue with some users, though they should be aware of that going in. Uberlife, for example, says it will implement features in the future that let only your friends connect with you, but right now it's totally open. That might be a little creepy to some, and that is likely an obstacle a lot of these kinds of apps will face in terms of growing adoption.

"Right now, there is certainly an element of human nature," where some may resist joining in hangouts, admits Saha. Particularly the more personal ones. But still, anyone in the Uberlife community can join hangouts that are going on around them.


There may be some big opportunities for brands to capitalize on this social discovery trend. Really, we've already happening to some extent over recent years with the rise of smartphones, and apps like Foursquare, Yelp, Urbanspoon, and even Google Places. But that goes for this new crop as well. Saha says food, drink and clothing brands have already approached the company, as well as some bands (a natural fit for such an app).

"We've yet to have one actually create a hangout," Saha says of brands. "But their interest is around being able to engage their customer base offline - or to mobile their customer base offline, in really a fun, spontaneous way that's great for things like flash mob events."

The main interest, she says, for brands, is that when you create a hangout, the attendee can check in, upload photos, etc. and share that stuff through Facebook and Twitter. It's about connecting customers with each other as well, which could be helpful for the brand in the long run.

More social discovery apps

Highlight would be another one of the new apps that's getting a lot of buzz around SXSW. This one calls itself "a fun, simple way to learn more about the people around you". As my colleague Mike Tuttle wrote about it, "stalkers of the world rejoice."

"If someone standing near you also has Highlight, their profile will show up on your phone," the official description continues. "You can see their name, photos of them, mutual friends, and anything else they have chosen to share. When you meet someone, Highlight helps you see what you have in common with them. And when you forget their name at a party a week later, Highlight can help you remember it. As you go about your day, Highlight runs quietly in the background, surfacing information about the people around you. If your friends are nearby, it will notify you. If someone interesting crosses your path, it will tell you more about them."

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