The last several months have resulted in a third wave of mobile-local-social apps birthed onto mobile devices including the likes of Beluga, GroupMe, Yobongo, Ditto, Localmind, HeyTell, Localscope, Hashable, and others. Many of these apps launched in time for SXSW, which offered an opportunity to field-test them and identify the app that would emerge as this year’s “winner.” A distinct winner may have not have surfaced but as a whole, these apps have revealed some clear new trends that are worth examining.
Reinventing how to incorporate OS-level features. Just when SMS, maps, voice recording, push notifications, and many other OS features seemed like they were no longer hip and exciting, the new breed of mobile-local-social apps have given them new life. The core of these apps focus on leveraging these OS-level functions. More specifically though, they exist solely to make OS features better and more useful (e.g., Localscope’s overlaying of Foursquare venues on the maps application).
The Address Book as an alternative social graph. The ultimate social network may not be on the Web but instead exist in the Address Book. Increasingly, the Address Book of mobile devices is becoming a primary way to connect friends because those that are in it represent much stronger relationships when compared to the weaker ties of “friends” on Facebook and Twitter.
Selective broadcasting via groups. Closely related to second trend is a shift from public to private broadcasting. Many of these new apps are built around groups that a user either explicitly creates (e.g., GroupMe) or in which approval is required for someone to be accepted into it (e.g., Hashable’s “Inner Circle”). More sensitive information can be shared in these groups because of the higher level of trust they foster.
Transition from passive consumption to active participation. Whether through social pressures (e.g., a group of friends are at a restaurant) or data mining (e.g., no visits to the gym in three weeks), check-in’s are now the inputs powering ever more intelligent personal trend analysis and recommendations. To this extent, location status (i.e., the check-in) is slowly being relegated to the background, so that the focus is not about where someone is (the input) but rather what someone should do based on that information (the output).
Multiple layers of local data. Yes, mashups were popular on the Web during the glory days of “Web 2.0″ but they typically never fit in a person’s pocket. In addition, neither the real-time stream nor the various “places” databases were present at that time. Mobile-local-social apps are often now piggybacking off of these existing API’s but more interestingly, they are determining how to combine all of these different data points together in an experience that makes sense for the smartphone.
While there’s been an influx of new mobile-local-social apps, expect to see incumbents quickly build or buy similar features or functions. Facebook already made its move by acquiring the group messaging app Beluga. It wouldn’t be surprising for companies like Twitter or Foursquare to consider going after GroupMe or LinkedIn to pursue Hashable. Generally, expect to see a collapse of these apps into the more established players ranging from behemoths like Google to formidable upstarts such as Foursquare, as they each fight to rule the highly competitive mobile-social-local space.