Yobongo Launches Location-Based Chat App for iPhone [INVITES]

January 25, 2011

Yobongo, an iPhone application for serendipitously connecting nearby people in mobile, chatroom-like environments, is launching in private beta Monday.

The previously stealth startup hails from Caleb Elston and David Kasper, both formerly of Justin.tv. The two started working on the application in March of 2010 and left their Justin.tv jobs in October to pursue Yobongo full-time. Their mission is to help people better connect with others in the world around them.

Yobongo, as described by Elston, is a new way of communicating with real people. At launch, the application automatically drops the user in a chat room — based on location — where he or she can start chatting in a group environment with others in the room. Chat room members can also see each other’s avatars at the top of room, and start one-off private conversations with other room participants.

The key difference from applications such as MessageParty is that Yobongo controls who gets placed into what rooms and when. It’s a serendipitous experience engineered by a number of variables that the service uses to determine the makeup of each mobile chat room.

Location does factor into the experience, but the application is more people-centric, says Elston. So, rooms dynamically adjust based on where people are and the flux of a city, but the velocity of users coming in and out of the app and the nature of the individuals (i.e. if they’ve chatted before) also play a role in where users end up.

Prior to today’s private beta launch, Yobongo was being privately tested by a small group of individuals, which means many of Yobongo’s features are unproven.

In a short test, I experienced firsthand just how fast the messaging experience is — in terms of mobile messaging, it’s as real-time as it gets. But because of the restricted nature of the private alpha, I was messaging in the application’s only room. The experience was entertaining and fun, but none of the people or location factors mentioned above played any role in determining how I was placed in the chat room. The private beta will continue to be a controlled test, so the elasticity of the application will still be hard to see in action.

Yobongo is currently self-funded, but Elston and Kasper are said to be in talks with investors. The two believe that as the market for location-based advertising matures, Yobongo will find a way to monetize its service.

Yobongo has fielded interest from thousands of would-be users, but Mashable readers can cut the line. iPhone owners can sign up here to receive priority access to the private beta.

(from Mashable)

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