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Summary:

If you’re still making apps for individuals, you’re behind the times. A new mobile trend seems to recognize that one is indeed the loneliest number, and has developers targeting groups instead. Group chat, group check-ins, group buys, group love: it’s all about the multiples, baby.

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If you’re still making apps catering to individual users, you’re behind the times. A growing trend in mobile apps seems to recognize that one is indeed the loneliest number, and has developers targeting groups instead. Group chat, group check-ins, group buys, group love: it’s all about the multiples, baby.

As we head into South by Southwest (SXSW), it’s clear the star of the show this year will be the group, replacing location services as the new kid on the block over which everyone will fawn. Groupon led the charge, of course, with a meteoric rise  in the public consciousness fueled by massive valuations, a Google takeover bid, and a disastrous (or ingenious?) Superbowl marketing campaign. A slew of group-buying website copycats followed, but the group trend wouldn’t remain limited to the retail sphere alone. Groupon was born on the web, but quickly went mobile with apps for both iOS and Android.

Path made a stir when it introduced the concept of sharing photos with an extremely limited circle of close contacts — essentially, a 50-person-strong group. Groupon used the group as clique, but an inclusive one where membership depended on your ability to recognize a good deal, which is subtly flattering to members of the group. Path represented a slight shift, making the group exclusive rather than inclusive, further emphasizing the clique feel. Like Groupon, Path managed impressive funding and garnered lots of publicity.

Lately, the group concept has exploded into a number of other areas, and combined with other hot mobile trends to create potentially market-disrupting hybrids. Convore got lots of attention for making web-based group communication incredibly simple and easy. So far, it has yet to develop a native iPhone or Android app to bring the experience to mobile devices, but the web-based version is solid enough for use on those platforms, and there’s an API and third-party solutions in progress.

If Convore doesn’t go mobile fast, it may find there’s no room left. Yobongo, a location-based group chat app for iOS that Ryan Lawler covered only a few days ago, is getting plenty of attention from the press and mobile device users. Yobongo adds a unique element by grouping users based on physical location. Stacey’s list of Austin-based startups to watch at SXSW this year includes a company with a similar app called HurricaneParty, and another with an app that aims to make group discounts more pertinent to where users are actually shopping.

Another location-based app looking to capitalize on the group trend is Ditto (which Ryan Kim covered just yesterday) which pairs location-based check-ins with your group of friends, allowing for quick and easy planning of impromptu get-togethers. Ryan Kim also covered RedRover this week, a location-based check-in service for close circles of friends who also happen to be parents. Both of these apps also contain a heavy dose of community-sourced recommendations, another app trend I’ve written about here at GigaOM.

In case you needed any further evidence that groups will be big for mobile apps in 2011, you need only look as far as Facebook’s recent acquisition of group-messaging app Beluga. Beluga provides users with the ability to chat privately, with the express aim of helping them plan outings or share info and photos. Sound familiar? It should if you’ve ever been a BlackBerry Messenger user. Shortly following the announcement of Facebook’s acquisition of Beluga, the possibility of RIM expanding the availability of BBM to other platforms was floated, suggesting the BlackBerry-maker isn’t eager to cede ground in this territory. But if Facebook does group messaging right, even a platform-agnostic BBM can’t compete.

Groups are hot, and not just because they’re getting a lot of hype. It makes sense for app makers to appeal to user groups instead of individuals, for reasons of adoption and relevance. A group-based app is likely to attract at least one more user for every individual it attracts, for instance, since users will want someone to use the app with. And if apps can attract users in batches, they can better evaluate the social matrix within which each one operates, making for more relevant personalized recommendations and more successful advertising and marketing campaigns. Users win, too, because the group provides continued usefulness for the apps in question, lessening the chance that a purchased or downloaded app will only get used or twice before being banished to the land of misfit software.

This year is the year of the group when it comes to mobile software. Developers, and users, need to ask themselves just one question: Are you in, or are you out?

Disclosure: True Ventures is an investor in Ditto, as well as in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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  1. Individual thought, privacy and freedom are so yesterday. It’s so much cooler to be just like everyone else.

    1. Darrell Etherington Chris Friday, March 4, 2011

      That’s a fair point. These kinds of apps do represent a new extreme in terms of collecting data about users. Is it too much of a trade-off for better personalization, recommendations and a more personally-relevant user experience?

      1. Nice round-up article Darrell!

        We at SecretSocial do believe there is a limit to the data collected about people.

        Learn more about our rather unusual take on social conversations here: http://secretsocial.com

        Ping me zubin at secretsocial dot com if you’d like to try it out.

  2. Long live the collective! You WILL be assimilated.

  3. So far, isolated mobile apps have been very common – games, utility apps. But now that 3G has become more mature and available, 4G is on the horizon and as mobile devices are becoming more powerful, interactive apps, group apps are a natural step in the evolution of mobile.

  4. The big point most people are missing is that anything related to groups – has the inherent strength of viral growth. With individual apps you still have the challenge of driving adoption – while for group related apps – the growth is user drive, viral and can be explosive.

  5. Kim Garretson Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Watch for another group launch at SXSW, CommonDeeds.com

    Existing or new groups can use the platform to communicate and give each other encouragement and rewards for achieving group tasks and goals. I’m an advisor.

  6. Brian Magierski Monday, March 7, 2011

    Hi Darrell – The group movement is certainly hot, and getting crowded. With the mass media size and scope of Facebook, we now need a social networking solution for the rest of us – those of us that want to privately network with close friends and colleagues. It’s a big problem, which is why we see so many app vendors taking different approaches to the problem. This is going to take more than one app feature or release to solve.

    To that end, my company Appconomy, is releasing its entry called Grouped{in} into the group social networking space. We are in this for the long haul, beyond the initial feature battle, to solve the social networking for the rest of us problem.

    Thanks for highlighting this emerging and important space!

  7. Great article. Groofer is applying the group concept to filtering the business social web. RSS is the first information stream that we have applied this new concept to and we are working on adding new ones. Group reading / filtering RSS feeds as part of a collaborative effort of an internal team or an external interest group saves time and effort – both on consuming the right content and discovering new ones.

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