Yobongo, the iPhone app that "makes it super fun and easy to chat with people nearby," has finally gone live in the iTunes App Store. After a month in beta testing, Yobongo has shown itself to be a well-designed, functional mobile chat room.
Now, just one thing remains to be seen - can it deliver on its promise of "ambient real-time communication"?
Yobongo founders Caleb Elston and David Kasper left Justin.tv last October with the intention of creating "a new way to communicate and share with people nearby from your mobile device." Yobongo is that "new way."
According to Elston, the release is going to focus on San Francisco, Austin (home of this month's SXSW festival) and New York City. When users launch the app in one of these cities, the app will determine in real time what chat group they will be added to according to their location, who they might have spoken with in the past and group density.
"We analyze every pair of messages sent through the system and use that to build up an understanding of who you like talking with," explained Elston. Then when you open Yobongo we place you with people you have the strongest affinity for."
So far, however, the app has simply served as a private mobile chat room for a hand-picked group of 150 beta testers. So how do they know that, once it goes live and out to the masses, it's going to function as planned? They already released the app under a different name in Canada to test out the location and grouping functionality.
Will It Translate?
When blogger Robert Scoble discussed the app last month, he asked a key question of it - can it "avoid the 'masses are asses' chat room problem?"
While Elston provided us with a slew of statistics on the app's usage over the last month, there's only one problem - Yobongo users, so far, consist of a hand-picked group of early adopters, tech insiders, bloggers and Silicon Valley techies. Can we judge adoption and usage on how much these folks like talking to each other in a private mobile chat room? We're not so sure.
At the same time, it's solidly designed, functional and could have a strong showing as a way to meet random folks at the year's largest gathering of techies and the often socially-inept. As Scoble asks, "Will it still be interesting when we get drunk at SXSW?"
One commenter points out that location, just like real identity (which Yobongo also requires) could help deal with this problem.
"Location limiting alone is huge," he writes. "I'm less likely to be an ass to you if there aren't six routers and four firewalls between us."
Of course, there's just one more question to ask: Do users really want this? Were we really missing out on being able to chat with small groups of people who are located nearby? We have Twitter for people we know and don't know. We have GroupMe, Kik, Fast Society and any number of other group messaging apps for folks we already know. Is the socially "unknown," the stranger, what people were really looking for in their mobile communications experience?
For now, the only thing to do will be to go grab yourself a copy and see if it can, indeed, deliver.