Blog Post

Sonar offers on-the-go messaging to friend groups nearby

Social discovery app Sonar isn’t just about social discovery any more.

One year after its launch, the New York-based startup said it wants to be less of a mechanism for uncovering connections with strangers around you and more of a tool for actually connecting with friends and, eventually other contacts, you already have nearby.

“We’re not a people discovery app, said Brett Martin, Sonar’s CEO and co-founder. “We’re focused on building an easier way to connect with your friends and people here now.”

To make that possible, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, the company today released a set of new features meant to build what it calls a “here now” network and optimize communication with friends in your immediate vicinity.

The latest version of the Sonar app will include the ability to send location-relevant, “Sonar Status” posts. The message is visible to anyone in the Sonar network, but it appears as a push notification to only Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare friends that are in their immediate vicinity.

Similar to social apps Highlight and Banjo, and Foursquare’s Radar, it will also include “Sonar Presence,” a feature which runs in the background and automatically sends a push notification to users when friends and connections are within 500 meters. If users don’t want to receive the updates or broadcast their location, they can toggle the feature off. It will also roll out “Sonar Chat,” a private messaging feature for people in your vicinity.

Proving a sample use scenario, Martin said in a blog post:

“On a recent Sonar offsite trip to Central Park, one of our engineers used Sonar status to notify the rest of the team that we’d set up camp in the southwest corner of Sheep’s Meadow. When latecomers got to the park, their phones gave them exactly what they needed to know without sending a single “Where are you guys?” text.”

Future applications could include enabling groups of guests at a wedding to exchange photos with each other in real time or even giving bands a real-time, mobile mechanism for distributing content to fans at a live event, Miller told me, adding that he wants it to be a “hyper-local publishing mechanism.”

Social discovery/ambient location apps grabbed plenty of headlines a few months ago at South by Southwest, but the fervor around them has died down a bit (except for maybe Facebook’s Glancee acquisition). Sonar hasn’t yet disclosed how many people use the app (although they say the information is on the way), so it will be interesting to see if users think the new features provide a function they can’t already get by combining Foursquare or Sonar and text messaging (or group messaging with GroupMe, for example).

When I asked Martin if the changes signaled a significant repositioning for the company, he said it’s another step toward its mission of “creating real-world, human, face-to-face interaction.”