News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

Social media app Sweep connects users for chats within geo-fenced venues

Many a social media user has likely had the thought at one point or another that their endless scrolling through one network or another probably isn’t that healthy – there’s nothing better than seeing everyone out having fun on a Friday night through Instagram as you scroll alone from your couch, right?

As it turns out, Facebook itself agrees – well, kind of. In a blog post, from two researchers at Facebook concluded that passive consumption of social media can have detrimental effects on a user’s wellbeing, however active consumption, or actively interacting with people through the sharing of messages, posts, and comments, can lead to improvements in one’s well being.

Since social media isn’t going anywhere, platforms as big as Facebook through to up and coming apps are looking at ways to up that active kind of interaction and consumption. One such app is Australian Sweep.

Created by Michael Cerbara and Mez Gallifuoco, Sweep was born out of ASX-listed tech company Thred.

As Gallifuoco explained it, Sweep works through ‘Geochats’, chat rooms which are fenced in to a specific location, such as a bar or a festival, so that only people at the particular venue or event can take part. While one may despair and ask why people can’t just go up and start talking to each other while out anymore, the reality is that we’re all on our phones, so apps may as well do something with that.

With Gallifuoco and Cerbara between them having skills in data analytics, psychology, and marketing, Gallifuoco said they were driven by not only a “fascination with online communities”, but also an interest in how to leverage new technologies such as geolocation and augmented reality (AR) for entertainment, engagement, and communication.

“As we sat in a bar one day discussing all the ways technology can improve social problems, we noticed everyone around us on their phones,” Gallifuoco said.

“Despite being out with friends, they were still glued to their screens. We really wanted to create a way for people to meet new people immediately around them. This feels much more authentic than meeting people from a distance as it is very ‘in the moment’.”

A user can start chatting by walking into a venue with a live Geochat and opening Sweep to chat with others.

The creators will be looking to monetise the app by charging venues to host Geochats, and therefore have a(nother) line of communication to their patrons.

“Business access to the Geochats will allow the venue or location to get a feel for their customers’ experience, as well as promote upcoming events and manage the night of their customers, for instance, through happy hours and cheap pizza. Businesses get the opportunity to deal with concerns live before they become bad reviews,” Gallifuoco said.

The app evolved out of Thred, an app that sought to aggregate a user’s social media, email, third party transaction platforms, and other media into one app to facilitate cross-platform communication and put everything into one ‘thred’.

“Sweep came about from a desire to reinvent social networks as we know them and to put a face to the people there. We overcame this through much testing with users. We have a very strong growth mindset at Sweep and we ran several experiments to make sure that this was a feature they wanted but also that it was presented in a way that was easily understood,” Gallifuoco said.

“The transition from Thred to Sweep was a big challenge as we were introducing a completely new app with brand new features, new design and potentially a new audience. We knew we would risk losing our current audience so we had to be very careful with our approach.”

Launched in November, Sweep worked on user acquisition through promotions with Schoolies on the Gold Coast, and a Sydney pub crawl conducted in partnership with media outlet the Urban List.

In a recent statement to the ASX, Thred reported that Sweep has over 7,000 monthly active users, with 25 percent of these coming on board following the activations. The app has a conversion and activation rate of 71 percent, with over 1,400 users having participated in a Geochat.

“Our target market is initially digital natives who understand mobile apps and use them regularly to meet and connect to new people. When we went and spoke to users directly we realised the app has a large following among 18 to 25 year olds, however it’s really for anyone who enjoys a good chat,” Gallifuoco said.

Gallifuoco acknowledged the resemblance to Yik Yak, the anonymous messaging app popular with college students, but believes Yik Yak’s focus on anonymity caused it problems that Sweep can avoid. Having raised US$73 million in venture capital funding and at one point seeing its valuation rise to US$400 million, the company shut down earlier this year.

“Sweep is different in that the public chats can only be accessed within that geofence, as opposed to Yik Yak’s bulletin board style feeds. Delineating itself from Yik Yak, we are not an anonymous network and we place a massive emphasis on social life and events such as festivals and nightlife,” Gallifuoco said.

Beyond Yik Yak, Sweep is one of a number of Australian apps looking to help people in a specific location connect.

Launched in November by Melbourne duo Justin Borg and Matthew Kalandos, Spota works primarily to connect users within a 100 metre radius. Upon spotting someone they like, Spota will send a user a random icebreaker question as a friend request. The user who sent the question has to respond to the ice breaker before the two can properly start chatting.

Looking to 2018, Gallifuoco said the Sweep team is focused on further development of the app, with augmented reality features in the pipeline.

“Being a social app has its challenges as we all have loyalty to our favourite apps, but we want to go where the others haven’t. We want to merge the physical and digital worlds and allow people to express themselves and connect in an entirely novel way.”

Image: the Thred team. Source: Supplied.

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