Going virtual for real networking

Location-based networks and apps to connect with people in the neighbourhood who share similar interests

When Bangalore-based IT professional Pankaj Dugar settled in his third house in a new city in three years, he was left without any buddies to bike with. “It seemed like way too much work to ask around in the neighbourhood again to find someone who might like to play a quick round of golf or go biking with,” recalls Dugar. The stress to start over again in a new city made him wish that there was a better way to meet people who were interested in the same things as he was. “Facebook is used more to update your status or chat and connect to your existing friends and family online than to do offline, real-life things,” he says.
Dugar quit his job last year and set out to develop Treetle, a geo-location-based website which connects people with similar interests in the same neighbourhood, putting the focus on real-life activity and meeting rather than just online hangouts.
Treetle isn’t the only people-finding network—smartphone apps with GPS-location services are making it easier than ever to connect people by their interests. We take a look at some of these networks and also see how safe they are to use.
At the pool
At The Pool takes its motto “meet locals who love what you love” rather seriously. So seriously that you need an invite to join this website. “When someone requests an invite, if we don’t have members in their area or with their interests, we wait until we do before we send the invite,” says Alex Capecelatro, CEO and founder, At The Pool, in an email interview. The start-up was launched in July in Los Angeles, US, and it already has members from over 50 countries, including all major cities of India. Once you have an invite, you can log in with your Facebook account. Then you simply join pools based on your school, passion or types of people you want to meet. The pools have names like “foodies”, “hikers”, “musicians”, etc. If you are single, you can opt to meet other singles, or you can simply look for friends. Once you have made your profile, the website automatically introduces you to one person every day. “The goal is to introduce members to someone new each day in order to connect them offline, face-to-face,” says Capecelatro.
Safety set-up: You need to verify who you are through your Facebook account. The profile is only accessible to paired users. “We try to encourage members to meet in public, safe places, and to use best practices before meeting a stranger,” says Capecelatro.
Launched in July, Treetle has 200 clubs and 3,000 members across India. Members have a dashboard to see all activities in the community. You can join clubs that you are interested in, make friends using the “Connections” tab and you will get news of forthcoming events every month. Treetle ensures that you actually get out of the chair by paying users for organizing events in your clubs. CEO Pankaj Dugar says, “Get online, get the information you need, then get offline to actually do things you enjoy.”
Safety set-up: Anyone who creates a user ID on Treetle needs to verify their cellphone number, or connect via their Facebook account. Treetle also asks the users to give “Brave Points” to trusted members, so the more points a person has, the more credible he/she is.
Join at: www.treetle.com
Damien Patton, founder and CEO, created Banjo in 2011 when he missed meeting a buddy he hadn’t seen in years at the Boston airport because both of them were using different social networks. “Banjo notifies you when any of your friends are near on any social network,” he says in an email interview. Once you log in your details on Banjo from other social networks (it works with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, and LinkedIn, along with Gmail contacts) and switch on your GPS, you see posts by all your friends on a world map, along with posts from strangers marked as public. “Banjo aims to make sense of all the location-based content in your lives, enabling you to experience what’s going on anywhere in the world and surfacing places, people and things that matter to you,” says Patton. According to Patton, the average age of Banjo members is between 23 and 35 years and the app is available in 10 languages with members from over 190 countries.
Safety set-up: The only posts strangers can see are the ones marked public. Otherwise users will only see posts if they are your friends.
Join at: www.ban.jo (also available on iTunes and Google Play)
Mixer, launched in September, is an app that works around locations—neighbourhoods, malls, restaurants or cities. You log in using your Facebook account and start a discussion linked to the location you are in. Other Mixer users in the same location can see, post comments, text and photos to that location. “When someone posts a message, it’s for the local community to see rather than for a single person to see,” says Chris Connell, CEO. When you participate in a conversation of a locality, you become part of the local community. When you don’t use the app in that area frequently then eventually you are no longer shown as part of that community. Other people in the community see your profile and you can see theirs. It’s a great way to connect with locals for suggestions on what to eat and what to do while travelling.
Safety set-up: No private communication is allowed on Mixer, it’s a public space to talk. Facebook login adds another safety layer to the network which shows only generalized locations.
Join at: www.getmixer.com (also available on iTunes)
BuzzMob, launched in August 2011, uses GPS information to connect you to real-life places and events in your vicinity. The app is based on the idea of a “ring”, a particular space or event that you can become a part of.
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