The most important thing you need to know about Banjo, the Palo Alto-based startup launching its new mobile app today, is that it's not another social network. "Banjo is a social discovery service," explains CEO Damien Patton. "It's a layer on top." What he means is that you don't have to build a community on Banjo, you don't have to add or remove friends - in fact, you don't even have to create a profile to use it.

Instead, Banjo, when launched, shows you the people around you. It's a social network based on who's present at any given location.

Banjo Wants to Bring Social + Location to the Mainstream

Banjo has three main goals. One is to connect you to your social networking friends you didn't know were nearby - for example, a friend from Facebook or Twitter, killing time at the airport, only a few gates away from you. It also wants to hep you find out what's going on nearby by providing access to status updates and tweets from everyone around you, in a radius you specify. It also provides you with a way to virtually visit other locations, even when you're far away, to see what's going on with the people there.

This last feature seems custom-built for journalists, we think. Imagine being able to provide the app with the name of a location where bombs have just been dropped, an earthquake has occurred, or a plane has just crashed. But will mainstream users simply want to peek in and see what people tweet about at Disneyland, though? We're not sure.

Still, the interesting thing about Banjo is its overall consumer-friendly approach. The app is well designed, and it attacks the combination of social and local in a very different way than some of its competitors. It's trying to go directly after the mainstream user from day one.

How it Works

The people Banjo finds don't necessarily have to have "checked in" using a location-based networking service like Gowalla, Foursquare or Facebook Places. While that helps, Banjo is designed to also pull in locations from geotagged tweets, uploaded photos, and other media from all social networking services. Wait - all? Yes, that's the plan. Patton says they have 22 services they're focused on integrating now, but the company's goal is to become a federation of all social networks, big and small, from around the world.

Although you will get more use out of Banjo if you provide it with your Facebook and Twitter info (it will then put a small icon next to the photos of your friends), it's not necessary. Upon first launch, the app is populated with the icons of all the social networking users it finds nearby. You can view this in a photo grid layout, or as a list also showcasing their status updates. Other buttons plot the users on a map and allow you to connect your own social services.

Banjo is simple to use and straightforward in its layout, design and purpose. It's location-based social networking that even the least technically savvy user could grasp.

The application is a free download on iTunes and on the Android Market. A Web-based version (HTML5) is coming soon, and the company will look into building both iPad and Android tablet apps next.

For more details on how Banjo compares with similar startups in this space, stayed tuned. A second, more in depth post is on its way.