On a business trip this week a serious of unfortunate events culminated with me being left in limbo in the San Franciscoairport overnight. Like any self-respecting geek and optimist my first thought was "Hey, this means I can spend a bunch of hours checking out Yobongo!" For those not familiar with Yobongo it is a startup that is getting a lot of hype lately. Their product, an eponymous iPhone app, is a location-based group chat application. Currently it is only available in a few cities (San Francisco, Austin (for SXSW), and New York.)
So how was the hot new thing? Honestly it let me down a bit. I have to be fair though, it was late at night and there weren't many people chatting. Having a room with more people would certainly have made it more exciting.
That being said, I think that Yobongo's key weakness is the same as its core strength. It is a mobile, location-based, group chat application. This means i have to type on my iPhone to chat. This gets old fast. Hopefully as the community grows some kind of shorthand pidgin will form (like what happened with @ and # at Twitter) that will make this less cumbersome. I also wonder if there isn't some opportunity here to innovate in the space of textless chatting. It would be interesting to see what kind of interactive chat-room style environment you could make if you weren't allowed type (or could only type 8-10 chars.) You would have the option of sharing photos (that you could be taking at the moment) or use some less granular form of language (i hate to say emoticons, but they are an example of the type of thing i'm talking about.)
It's not all doom and gloom though. I think Yobongo would make a lot of sense at events like SXSW and at conferences where you have a community of people coming together who are interested in chatting and knowing whats going on. Twitter can do this, but Yobongo does a better job of keeping it in the vicinity of the action. I just can't see it working too well in many areas though. Sure it might work in NY, SF, and at SXSW but will it work in Hartford, CT? How about a small town in Missouri?
It will be interesting to see how Yobongo evolves and expands into other communities. I didn't like Twitter at first either.. but now I "get it." Maybe i'll have the same experience with Yobongo. Maybe not.