It's no surprise that South By Southwest is a fertile breeding ground for socially-based companies and apps. Foursquare, Twitter, and last year's Highlight and Glancee were all catapulted into the spotlight during SXSW because they offered a new and unprecedented way of connecting people amidst the chaos.
Last year, especially with Highlight, which broadcasts a user's location, SXSW revelers got a glimpse of the full potential of what happens when social technology and location technology merge. There was something remarkably sci-fi about using the phone not as a means of communication, per se, but as a tracking device to find the person you're looking for. Which, of course, led to a lot of earnest questions about privacy and security--among many more mundane (and very much immediate) questions about battery life.
In other words, expect social apps to continue to dominate the zeitgeist of South by Southwest, but expect the conversation to focus less on the technology's capabilities, and more on the ability for the user to control his or her data.
Dave Morin, the angel investor and founder of Path, will even host his own session on this very concept, and his speech will be centered around the idea that "our social interactions should feel human again." With that in mind, we present four companies exhibiting at this year's SXSW that we think you should know about, each representing a new definition of what it means to be "social" in 2013.
Koozoo's self-defined goal is "to make live views of the world's public spaces easily accessible to one and all." To accomplish this, Koozoo users download the Koozoo app and simply prop their smartphone camera against the window. Koozoo members can then enjoy the view from any of these locations. On the bright side, the app enables anyone to become an urban explorer without leaving the living room. Plus, it's nice to know whether or not there's a line outside your favorite sandwich shop.
But with Koozoo, there's something undeniably Orwellian about a constantly monitored public, like a decentralized CCTV where no one is necessarily monitoring your actions--but someone (anyone) could be. The company was founded in 2010 in San Francisco and has raised $2.5 million from Palo Alto-based VC firm NEA.
Online collaboration has been around for years, dominated mostly by the giants like Skype and WebeX, and more recently Google, which debuted Hangouts in May of 2012. But there's still plenty of space for exploration, and Present.me is hoping to become the premier service for what it calls "social and business communication."
The core value proposition of Present.me is its unique layout: Users record themselves with their webcam, but share the screen with whatever document they're discussing. So if you're a lawyer discussing a contract, you can bring the contract into view to highlight a sentence. "Presenters need to be seen, because seeing is believing," says the London-based company's co-founder, Richard Garnett.
Plenty of tools already exist to allow users to share what's on their screen with other users--but few do it with the ease of Click With Me Now. The company's core value over its competitors is a piece of proprietary technology (patent pending) that gives users "a 1-click, no-download, no-cost way to share their screen." The company is especially bullish on the use-case scenario of online shopping.
"Whether someone is buying a personal computer, a dress, or a new car, consumers often bring a friend to get a second opinion and have someone to interact with during the trip," the company notes."When shopping online, however, consumers are left alone and lose this entire social aspect, leading to anxiety and shopping cart abandonment." Right now, the company is still scheduling demos in beta, but it will be exhibiting at the SXSW Interactive Accelerator competition.
Nextdoor is Facebook for neighborhood--a social network built around your physical community that lets you learn about and communicate with the people living around you. Unlike the previous three companies, Nextdoor is hardly a scrappy little start-up--the company has raised more than $40 million from several well-known Valley investors, including Greylock Partners and Benchmark. In other words, they're making a big play at becoming the de facto neighborhood technlogy layer. The company has built networks in nearly 9,000 neighborhoods around the United States, and has become something of a neighborhood watch.
"People want to come together to create safer neighborhoods, whether it is to track down a lost dog or warn neighbors against suspicious activity," a company's co-founder, Nirav Tolia, said recently. "We are helping neighbors help themselves when it comes to crime and safety." Check out Sarah Leary, another co-founder of Nextdoor, discuss the company at The Rise of Contextual Social Networks, on Saturday, March 9.