SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile) is a hot segment right now. SoLoMo apps help people to identify and interact with people in their proximity who they might already know or share common interests with. SoLoMo generated a great deal of buzz at last month's South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, where some of the startups in the field pushed their apps with hopes of achieving rapid Twitter-like adoption by trend setters (apparently, none really did). That doesn't mean the market isn't going to take off, but there is probably going to have to be some fine tuning before it does.
Now Philly has a locally based entry in the market, Interact, which launched this week and presented at two Philly Tech Week events: one held by appRenaissance (which did much of the development work), and at Mobile Monday Mid-Atlantic's Demo Night. Interact is now available for download from the App Store. Interact had originally hoped to debut at SXSW, but the app wasn't quite polished enough yet.
Interact is a product of Ivy Development and Technology, Inc., founded by Anthony Coombs, whose impressive background includes a sociology degree from UPenn and two previous startups he founded. Coombs said in a phone interview with Philly Tech News that Interact is designed primarily to help people meet and connect with people they don't already know within a certain distance (predefined by the user based on GPS) having common traits or shared groups or interests from their Facebook profiles. For example, Coombs could be in an airport and see that another Penn grad there wants to connect with him. There are different directions this app can go in. One is to emphasize more personal or social connections. Another is to emphasize professional connections; Coombs is considering incorporating the LinkedIn API so users can see the professional qualifications of who they are connecting with or perhaps screen out people on that basis. The third angle is monetization and how to do that; it could be set up within a retail district, for example, so that stores that fit your interests can let you know about deals they have on when you are nearby.
The key issue is that you don't want to be a walking target for every salesperson (I am reminded of the life insurance salesman who hounds Bill Murray in Groundhog Day) or someone who wants to hit on you for whatever reason. Coombs has put considerable effort into finding ways for people to protect their privacy, but developing more options in between protecting your privacy while still being open to desired connections will still need more work (not only for Interact but for similar apps), from what I understand.
Coombs emphasizes that Philly is his test bed, and that he is building his user base in the market he knows best. Along that theme, Interact ran an "Are you the 'Most Connected Student' in Philadelphia ? " contest, with winners at each campus receiving iPads or other prizes based on having the most Interact Connections. The contest was scheduled to end today.