Our isolated online life has, perhaps ironically, become the latest problem for technology to solve. Whether it’s Silicon Valley’s elite advocating we disconnect more, or PandoDaily’s own Francisco Dao longing for a youth spent driving around in cars with friends, we’re finally talking about how technology has failed to better connect us offline.
Enter Oakland-based Gather, a new mobile app that’s innovating on top of Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare to get people off the computer and bring them together. Gather places all social media contacts within 50 miles of one another into a feed and broadcasts what they’re doing. The catch is that everyone has to download Gather to connect, and right now it’s only available for iOS5 and up and Android 4.0 and up.
“There are all these reasons why people flake out. Our app is trying to motivate meeting up by answering key questions like ‘who’s there, for how long, how far is it, did the location change?’” says co-founder Max Ogden.
When Ogden moved to the Bay Area a year and a half ago to work for Code for America, he found Foursquare didn’t work to rally friends together like it had when he lived in Portland. He and co-founder Mikeal Rogers, a former Yammer and Mozilla developer, grew a friendship through conferences and events, including the predominantly offline NodeConf SummerCamp.
“In the developer world, there are people who only chat on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), GitHub, and mailing lists. We don’t have a lot of face time,” says Ogden.
The Gather founders tested the alpha version at TacoConf, a group of 100 people biking around the Bay to different taquerias and sampling tacos. As the group grew, diminished, and dispersed, Ogden says they could watch how Gather helped keep it organized. He sees the app being best used whenever people get together and change locations, but imagines possible uses for everything from finding food trucks to meeting new people. The broadcasts are public to anyone on Gather within 50 miles, but a private version will be available soon.
“Will it turn out to be useful for businesses, conferences, or dating? We’re not yet sure,” says Ogden.
It’s a question recently launched startups are trying to answer, most notably San Francisco-based Highlight and Glancee, which got a lot of attention at SXSW as “people discovery services.” Facebook acquired Glancee in May. Another SF startup, GiddyUp, just launched a mobile event planning and invite app.
Ogden said he’d been worried while developing Gather that one of the bigger players might catch on and felt relieved when Google+ Events launched a “horribly confusing” product. Still, he acknowledges that one of the platform companies might start paying closer attention to this category.
“All of the functionality in Gather could be in Foursquare or Twitter. We tightly integrated them to simplify and organize the information that’s already there.”
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]