On Social Radar and Why Mr Cranky’s Uncranked

Example 1

Twenty years ago, I was staying at the Souffer’s Hotel in Durham NC, home of the hated Duke Blue Devils. As I sat there watching Duke on TV I decided to call my brother in LA who was a Duke grad. He didn’t answer. Look he was a Duke grad which means he was probably passed out drunk in a bar somewhere or spending the night in the drunk tank, so I left him a Voice Mail.

Two weeks later, my brother woke up from what must have been an alcohol induced black-out, and returned the call. He asked me where I stayed in Durham and boom, he was staying in the same hotel at the same time as I.

The Case

In a meeting with SocialRadar CEO Michael Chasen a few months ago,  I was reminded of this story when Chasen related to me that some day a contextual understanding of who is nearby will be a common phone application as popular as today’s apps that tell us what is nearby.

Twenty years ago, I traveled the country and I used these paper things that were included with every rental car. If my memory serves me right they were called maps. I use to posses the now atrophied skill of reading said maps and finding my way around the Durhams and Daytons and San Angelos of the world.  Today, my phone takes me where I’m going.  Back in the day I didn’t know I’d be as dependent on GPS and that a phone would find me the best steakhouse in some foreign town and then show me how to get there step by step.

You want to know the definition of a first world problem? Finding out Yelp doesn’t work in Budapest.

Example 2

In 2001, I ran a company called Astracon in the Denver suburb’s. I would commute between DC and Denver every week. Every Thursday I’d go to Sullivan’s Steakhouse, sit in the bar, eat steak and listen to the piano and stand-up bass jazz duo. One day I went with one of my sales guys who just returned from an important client call in Piscataway NJ. We were sitting near the jazz duo, talking about Piscataway when the bass player, the same one who had been there the other 15 times I’d eaten there, walked the bass over to us while continuing to play and asked why we were talking about Piscataway? It turned out we grew up together in the town next to Piscataway, Edison NJ. We had played together as kids and known each other from grade school through high school.

As Steven Wright says…. “Small World but I wouldn’t want to paint it.

If I had an application that said there is someone within 20 feet of you who went to James Monroe Elementary and JP Stevens High School I would have known Mark Diamond was that bass player 15 steakhouse visits ago.

Example 3

One Friday night I was flying home on my regular commute between DC and Denver and I started talking to the passenger next to me. It took 5 minutes before we both realized this was my first boss ever. Chuck Roth hired me out of college at Lexitron. Wow! What a blast.

If he sat in another seat on that airplane, I never would have known. If I had an application that told me there is someone who worked at Lexitron within 10 feet of you, I probably would have found him even if he was 10 rows away.

Summary

I have two siblings… just two. What are the chances that one of them, the one who lived 3,000 miles away from Durham NC would be interviewing for a job and staying in the same hotel as I was on that day twenty years ago. How many times have you sat in a bar, eating a steak all alone when a former 3rd grade kickball team mate was sitting on the next stool? How many times have you stayed in the same hotel as your High School sweetheart and her 15 kids? How many times are you on a plane with a former teacher?

For every chance encounter there must be hundreds of magical moments… missed by inches… lost by minutes.

Someday, everyone is going to be as dependent on their mobile social discovery applications as we are on our phone’s GPS maps today.

There are several issues with today’s applications.

  1. Network Effect – Integration to other location aware applications and published APIs ease the network effect hurdle.
  2. Battery Killers – Better phones, longer lasting batteries, smarter software will get past the power-hungry needs of current gps enabled apps.
  3. Creep Factor – Flexible privacy settings that allow users to only be found when they want to be found will limit the creep factor.

There are hundreds of companies trying to be the king of Mobile Social Discovery Applications. Someone is going to win this war. Yet with APIs and interoperability, these applications will interoperate just as mobile phone networks interoperate.  Social Radar has as good a chance as any of the other 100 contenders of being the Verizon Mobile of Social Discovery and even if it’s not the next Verizon, being the next T-mobile wouldn’t suck.