A new group chatting app Yobongo launched recently, just in time for SXSW. It is an iOS app which uses your location to throw you into a simple chat room with other people in the same location. I've been semi-obsessed with it since it launched last week so I thought I'd note down some thoughts about it. Here's its well produced but nauseatingly-hipster intro video:
The reason for my interest is that back in 1999 I was working an a product idea in a similar vein. Instead of pursuing that idea I instead co-founded a chemical informatics company and have spent the years since wondering "what if"? Yobongo has some aspects of that old idea (it was sort of a mashup of Yobongo and GroupMe, another recent group chatting app). More recently, right before SXSW 2010 I started to add similar functionality to my side project app Skedu, but I didn't have time to complete it (and btw subsequently shelved Skedu work until I have time to implement a web-based schedule creator that outputs skedu json and an embeddable schedule HTML5 widget, maybe this year)
Apparently the service manages the number of people in the chat room, such that as the number of people in a region grows they create new chat rooms with a smaller range. For instance when I first signed up there were about 20 people in my chat room. Their locations spanned from Mountain View to Walnut Creek to Santa Rosa, which means about a 20+ miles radius around San Francisco. That was probably everyone using the app at that time right after launch. Supposedly if a more people signed on the radius represented in the subsequently created rooms would be much smaller.
I believe the ideal use case for this app is at events such as music festivals and conferences where a lot of strangers with a temporary shared interest are gathered. I predict it will gain a lot of traction this summer during the music festival season. It is also fun as a random chat room to pass the time. I used it on a Caltrain ride from SF to Palo Alto this weekend and it worked great the whole ride.
I'm sure there are many more changes coming soon in planned updates, but here's a brain dump of my thoughts and feature suggestions so far:
- First, security. I often check the wire protocol on new apps that I like. Distressingly too many of them pass your private information, such as your password, in the clear. This means someone sniffing a public wifi network can see your info. Yobongo does this with email and password over their (apparently) jabber connection.
- It would be nice if you could bookmark users you've run into for later reference. Additionally you should be able to add tags or notes on the user. Use case: I asked who was going to SXSW and it would have been nice to note the responses in some way within the app.
- You should be able to copy text from messages into the iOS clipboard.
- Better threaded conversation. Pro tip: if you double tap on a user's message it autostarts a new comment prepended with that user's name. It doesn't seem to link your new message to the old one though. What would be better is for the app to note the reply tree created in this manner. This would then make it possible to add an indicator in the new message that it is a reply. Tapping on the indicator could then temporarily filter out all messages in the chat room that are not part of that thread.
- It would be nice if you could then take a thread and email it to yourself for reference.
- You can see a brief profile on each user. Showing the approximate location on map in user profile would decrease the noise from the most common message theme: where is everyone? An even nicer touch would be to use a geo lookup to simply put the city name in the profile automatically as well.
- To get more into the GroupMe sort of features, I want to be able to create permanent private groups so I can always engage with Yobongo as a back channel for various sets of friends, regardless of our current location.
- When entering a message it would be nice to be able to drop in a venue record such that it displays as the venue name, but tapping on the name in the message will bring up venue information. "Hey let's have a flash meetup at [suchnsuch cafe] in 15 minutes!"
- I would like to have the option of using the landscape keyboard while typing a note. I know this decreases the amount of space to display the message stream, but I really just want to be able to turn the phone sideways for a few secs so I can type better, then rotate it back for reading the channel.
- Here's a big one that will be especially useful at conferences: GameKit support. In the event that you are on a conference wifi network that cannot reach the Interent (too common), ideally Yobongo would still work in a peer to peer mode using iOS GameKit. It might even be possible to pull this off withBlueTooth mode so it could work without any wifi. I was considering making an attempt to do this in the iBurn app for Burning Man a couple of years ago. I like the serendipity aspect of long range delivery being dependent on devices moving in and out of bluetooth range of each other. Hey, possible communication beats no communication!
- It needs to support iOS multitasking!
- Ability to drop in a photo or video would be fantastic. Ideally these would be thumbnailed by default.
- Links to websites should launch safari.
- There are some bugs of course. It crashed a few times on me. Once I went into settings and when I came back to the channel a bunch of recent messages had disappeared. Another time I joined a chat room and all of the timestamps on the existing messages were in the future.
All in all I'm excited about Yobongo and I think they've done a great job on initial release. The app is slick and simple which is perfect for an MVP. The use of elegant eye candy like the animation of the thumbnails in the users bar is wonderfully designed. The use of the Address Book on sign up is an underused capability in IOS apps. Congratulations to the Yobongo team! Just please make the hipster videos more palatable ;)