New Apps Aim for Social Serendipity In Real Life

People have created a web of connections online through social networks. But a new wave of apps aim to help people create spontaneous connections when they arrive at specific locations, giving rise to temporary social networks that are built around a place and a time.
LoKast, a proximity-based media sharing service, is updating its mobile app today to enable local chatting among strangers and other social tools. Two of the start-ups at TechCrunch Disrupt this week Karizma and Sonar showed off the ability for people to connect with others right around them for video chats or live interactions. A couple of months back, Color made a splash in the photo-sharing app space with the promise of letting people share pictures with the people immediately around them.
We’ve already seen some of this momentum with apps like Yobongo, a new chatting app that brings people together in one area. Local question and community-assisted recommendations sites like LocalMind and CrowdBeacon help get answers for people from the nearby community. Gay dating app Grindr also works to bring people together locally. But many of those are targeted on a larger area, not just built around one specific location.
But we’re seeing now that apps are looking to build a momentary community out of people who just happen to be in one very specific place at the same time. By helping you see the people around you and giving you ways to communicate and connect, it’s taking social networking from online into instant offline relationships that can end at that location or can continue on in some form. It’s giving rise to what Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson calls implicit social graphs, that are based on interests or location.
Do most people want to make those kinds of connections on the fly outside of dating scenarios? We’ll have to see if this creeps people out or draws them out of their shell. But it’s a logical extension of the growth of social networking and location-based services on smartphones.
LoKast, which we wrote about last year, started out allowing people to share media between smartphone users within a radius of 300 feet over 3G, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But, with its 3.0 update for the iPhone, (s aapl) it’s now venturing into what Boris Bogatin, the CEO of LoKast maker NearVerse, calls a holistic approach to proximity-based social networking. The app not only enables real-time messaging between users within 1,000 feet of each other, but it also creates digital spaces where groups can connect publicly or users can chat one-to-one. And it allows users to continue their connections into the future if they choose.
Bogatin said as users get the ability to discover each other and communicate safely in real-time with others in one location, it’s fueling what he called the proximity Internet, which complements the way people interact and share in the real world.
“For every one real-time social group that happens on the Internet, 99 happen in bars, living rooms, classrooms, conferences, cafes, retailers, etc.,” said Bogatin. “We’ve been living “proximity” for 10,000 years, know the behavior better than any other bar none, and all we are doing is raising it up to the next level – putting those 10,000 years on the Internet.  We think the proximity Internet market is 10 times bigger than the Internet market over 10 years, and we think the tech consumer mindset is finally here to make it happen.”
Earlier this week, I wrote about Sonar, an app that lets you figure out how you might be connected to the people around you at a specific place. When users check in at a location, Sonar helps them find people they’re connected to through Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare friends. The app makes it easy for a person to send out a chat invitation to someone else in that location.

Karizma, another app, is a location-aware video messenger that allows users to strike up video chats with people around them. The app, which is set to go live on iOS devices soon, allows people to see profiles of people around them, how they might be connected to another user, so they can start up a video conversation.
Again, we’ll have to see how this all plays out. But this is what smartphones enable. They are allowing us to discover the world around us and create connections that are hyper local and real-time. While most of us will find the biggest value in larger, established social networks, there seems to be a dawning awareness that there’s value in helping create implicit and disposable social networks that pop up around us.