Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where Ware

It's all about location-smart social media this year at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. Dozens of new start-ups launching there this weekend offer new ways to help people connect geographically in real-time, on the fly, using their mobile phones and devices. But just some of these new start-ups use social media for social good.

Here are a few very new start-up social enterprises which have, so far, triggered some buzz among the more than 5,000 SxSW attendees (many want to "discover" the next Twitter or Foursquare):

* is a real-time, location-based information stream that aggregates the movements of people in Austin attending SxSW -- and will soon be able to do the same in different cities around the United States and the world. [Go ahead, try it. It's like a visual Twitter on steroids.] SimpleGeo, the startup that owns, partnered with eight different location companies -- including Gowalla, Foursquare, Brightkite and Twitter -- and the result is a fast-moving "location stream" of data. So far, much of the activity represents check-ins from either foursquare or Gowalla. Down the road, founders hope to help nonprofits and NGOs build new ways to map crowd movements in environmental or political crises, so as to boost the delivery efficiency of basic goods and services.

* CauseWorld is a free iPhone and Android app that enables users to check in at places but when you do, participating brands (including Kraft Foods and Citi) will give money to a charity of your choice. The concept is to turn the current craze for location-based check-in games into money for those in need. This week at SxSW, CauseWorld and TechCrunch, the tech news blog, are partnering to offer double "karma" points to people who check in to one of over 50 participating venues in Austin. There are no purchases required. "Players" just need to check in to the right venues to earn the points.

* SparkHelp, a project that Mashable is supporting for the Pepsi Refresh SxSW Challenge, a competition for $50,000 in start-up funding. Founders describe SparkHelp as "a foursquare meets Craigslist" application. "The idea is simple," says Brian Milner, co-founder. "Anyone can place a call for help and anyone can answer that call. Help can be sought for anything: fence repair, car repair, computer work, dog-walking, etc." SparkHelp is seeking funding to build is Website as well as the apps for all of the major mobile platforms needed to match someone with time or skills with others who need them -- and all in real-time, based on where they are now.

* Giiv bills itself as a startup that's all about "texting with benefits." It's a mobile "micro-gifting" platform that lets people instantly send gifts to friends and those in need. How does it work? Find a gift you want to give from among those listed on Giiv's site and then enter the intended recipient's mobile number with a note. Giiv then texts that person a giiv code, which he or she can then redeem for real merchandise or services. Globalgiving and Tom's Shoes are among the first "gift" items listed on the start-up's beta site. (There is a 99-cent processing fee added on to the amount of the gift.)

* Glass is another real-time Web company, but this one lets users place notes on top of any Website, so that contacts "can see your thought together with the moment that inspired it, in context, allowing you to share the experience of being there." Think of it as a clear, digital Post-it note. "It's a virtual sheet of glass that lies over the entire Internet that's yours to affect," founders say. "You can share your thoughts about anything on the Web, right in the moment, by literally placing notes, highlighting text and even placing pictures and videos on top of any Website and share those thoughts with only those you choose." Think of it as a personalized form of "augmented reality" that lets people share a moment and a thought together as an experience. Founders say the application promotes information-exchange and promotes transparency, with the potential for social advocacy organizations looking to quickly share information about specific locations or get up to speed faster in crises locations from those on the ground.

Other unique location-aware ware at SxSW this year? Check out the "Twitter mandala."

Ironically, perhaps, these and other location-tracking platforms come amid some first-day conference sessions devoted to spirited discussions of online privacy, which conference kick-off keynoter danah boyd defined as "being not about hiding your information but about being able to control it in different situations."

Watch this space for updates.

-- By Marcia Stepanek

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