Connecting local in a globalized world
Imagine you leave a restaurant and would like to share your thoughts with anyone nearby, or picture yourself standing in an unknown place while reading notes that have been left there from previous visitors or even your friends.
“Urban spaces are increasingly densely populated,” said Dan Melinger, a resident of New York City. “People live in these spaces but may not even know what their neighbors think of the environment that they share.”
By leveraging existing technologies, socialight.com offers a platform that allows people to connect and share the content that is important to them, and allows brands to provide content related to the areas they and their customers inhabit.
Socialight was founded by Melinger, a graduate of New York University, in 2005 but didn’t find its legs until social media exploded and mobile technology caught up to his dream of connecting people in dense urban environments with each other.
Today, devices like the iPhone can locate users and turn them into multimedia producers with the push of a button. It has made existing technologies available to the masses, said Melinger, whose company has grown with these developments.
“Up until a year ago we were only a handful of people. Now, we are about 10 fulltime people and we also have teams of people all around the world on the engineering side and on the content side,” said Melinger, who tracked his company’s progress in an entrepreneurial journal.
Socialight has taken full advantage of the changes and recently launched an iPhone app for the Travel Channel. It allows fans of the TV channel to view content from places around them, produced by their favorite hosts.
“I have Anthony Bourdain right in my pocket,” said Melinger. “I can pull him up wherever I am, view a video clip from the show and he will tell me where to go and what to order.”
Socialight wants to provide a new form of what they call “light-touch communication.” It is ambient communication, waiting in place for you to come near it and make it relevant to you, said Melinger. “In that way, it’s much lighter than a phone call or text message that interrupts you regardless of your situation.”
Until now, Socialight has raised about $1 million from angel sources and is currently cash-flow positive. Melinger, who could not disclose projected revenues for 2009, said the company is already 10 times over its total revenues from last year.
The company’s main source of income is license fees to use the platform commercially. Additional revenue is starting to come from advertising, said Melinger.
“In the future, there will be increased opportunity to tie mobile commerce with real-world locations,” said Melinger who sees Socialight’s main contribution in bringing people to a place where they transform a transaction. He hopes his business can directly benefit from that and has started to collaborate with transaction-, lead generation- and couponing platforms.
After years of working on it, Melinger said his company is finally at the point where the technology and infrastructure is ready for them. Now he has to get the word out and find example communities that show people the power of the platform.
“I think the biggest challenge right now is to grow the number of communities on Socialight, and to provide our customers with the right tools to enable them to actually grow the communities that they created on our platform.”
“Location aware devices and services offer so much promise for a marketer, but the promise and the adoption don’t seem to be coming together as romanticized,” said Jantsch, who fears that Socialight is playing in a space where someone will get hot and become the content provider of choice, making it hard for the rest to catch up.
“I do think that the work they’ve invested in their platform and the very nice integration with Google Maps is an advantage if they can somehow capture some high profile communities and prove the platform drives sales,” said Jantsch
Brian Moran is president of Moran Media Group and spent the last 19 years publishing magazines for business owners. He said the two biggest problems will be attracting enough users so they can create significant revenue-generating opportunities, and having enough trustworthy reviews.
“Partners will play an integral role in building a critical mass for the company. They will spread the word to their members, customers, clients and supporters,” said Moran, who said those partners could also add credibility to the user reviews.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media and is a respected authority on entrepreneurship, covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 26 years. She said the target users of Socialight should be broader than local.
“I myself have been walking down the street in NYC and wondered where should I go for lunch and would love an easy to use technology that would provide the answer,” said Lesonsky who thinks targeting tourists makes great sense.
She suggests affiliations with travel sites, tourism offices and local chambers or neighborhood associations, but cautions that ad content could be confused with the opinions of users.
“I think this will work, but they need to broaden across all mobile applications,” said Lesonsky.
What do you think of Socialight? Will it be able to grab attention and use the technological advances to grow its business? Leave your response in the comments below.