We shoot out quick updates to friends on Facebook. Tweet out our thoughts on Twitter. Upload our pictures on Instagram. Record our location on Foursquare. These days, it takes nearly a half-dozen apps to keep up with all our fragmented social networks.
But a new iPhone and Android app out today called Banjo aims to solve the disconnections of our social media. Banjo integrates all our social networks into one streamlined service, offering a one-stop shop for updates from Facebook, Twitter, and more. The Palo Alto-based company is calling it a "social discovery" service, one that helps find nearby social connections in real-time. But Banjo works even if you're not a social media obsessive—if you fire up the app, it'll show you updates from the 16 closest users of any network that Banjo taps into. No log-in is required for Banjo; when you sync the service with your various social networks, however, the service will narrow your social network to nearby friends.
According to founder and CEO Damien Patton, the service is designed to facilitate serendipitous moments. Say you're in Heathrow Airport with hours to spare before your flight. To see if any friends are nearby, you'd have to open up any number of apps for that chance encounter. On Banjo, all your networks are aggregated—if a friend is nearby on any other service, you'll know about it right away. And if you don't have any friends in the area, perhaps another user not in your network might send out an interesting tip or update—that there are rain delays, say, or a deal in the airport Starbucks.
At least that's the ideal scenario. In my experience, the app rendered few helpful, relevant, or even interesting updates. Since Banjo aggregates only location-based updates, the amount of nearby tweets and status updates was at a minimum. It's still not very common for users to geotag their Instagram pictures, Facebook posts, or tweets, although the option is available to do so. When using it today, for example, the only updates featured on Banjo came from the check-in service Foursquare, or tweets of Foursquare check-ins, which are always geotagged. These updates were far from stimulating: so-and-so checked in at GameStop or jury duty or a coffee shop. Who cares?
Patton hopes that Banjo will help foster "an instant community," one that "doesn't require you to invite people or sign up for anything or to check in."
In that sense, his network is equal parts About.me, Path, and Color. Like About.me, Banjo aggregates all your social media in one place, only it's designed as a personal RSS feed of updates rather than a public profile of all your social networks. Like Path, Banjo aims to limit the number of friends and nearby users. And like Color, Banjo is playing with an "elastic network," meaning your network is built based on proximity—you'll only see tweets or Instagram pics from nearby users. (The default number of friends, 16, can be changed, as can the boundary of your social network—anywhere from 3 to 30 to 3,000 miles away if you'd like.)
For Patton, who did two tours of duty in Desert Storm, Banjo offers a solution to those trying to adapt to a new neighborhood or social network. "No one wants to be alone, when you first go on and you're by yourself, it's daunting," he says. "When I was in the military and overseas for more than a year, I got back and I didn't know what was going on. What changed in my community? Who are these people? What building is this?"
With Banjo, you don't have to be in the community you want to view: Whether you're in the East Village of New York or from a seaside town in Massachusetts, Banjo can keep you connected to all your social media.
"I think about being overseas now, and with Banjo, you could click on whatever community you're from, and instantly you'd see people eating at your favorite restaurant, you'd see people talking about something coming up, or about things that are changing," Patton says.
Banjo goes live today in Apple's app store and the Android marketplace.