BetaKit covered Redwood, CA-based Banjo earlier in the year when it reached the one million user mark in nine months, faster than both Facebook and Pinterest, and today the company is releasing version 3.0 of its ambient social discovery app. The latest iteration of the app allows users to tap their social graph to connect in real-time with both places and friends from around the world, effectively evolving the idea of what’s happening ‘here’ to now being able to instantly access what’s happening ‘there,’ wherever that may be. To date, the app has been downloaded by over three million users, is available for both Android and iOS in 11 languages, and has a user base that spans 194 countries.
Founder Damien Patton told BetaKit in an interview that Banjo has run focus groups around the world, and feedback showed that its app was being used to not only discover who or what was close by, but to find people in other places of interest, as well as by media outlets like CNN for on-the-ground coverage of the 2012 elections. “When we first started this it was based on the idea of where you are right now, the ‘here’ concept,” said Patton in an interview. “Through all of that, we found that people were leveraging Banjo’s technology to go ‘there’, the places they couldn’t be in person.”
The app still allows users to get real-time notifications of when their friends are nearby to act as a local discovery tool, but some of the added features include personalized places, a news feed of locations in the world with friends and common connections. Upon selecting a location, the feed populates connections across social networks, whether they happen to be a Banjo user or not.
Users not only find out common connections and which platform they’re connected on, but they also have the ability to contact them through either in-app messaging if the other user is also on Banjo, or via another social network. The search bar at the top of the app prompts users to enter any place in the world, and it starts off by showing them the weather and time, and then all the people they are connected to, and beyond that other people they aren’t already connected to in that area.
“When you go to that city, or that venue, or that concert, if I can show you your friends that are there across any social network, but more importantly the audience that’s there,” Patton added. “If I can tell you how you’re connected to the people in that audience…this means now if I go anywhere in the world…I will know people through one degree of separation that I’ll be able to see instantaneously.”
There are no shortages of startups in the space, from TagWhat, which provides a similar social feed that connects places with Tweets and Facebook updates, to a whole host of ambient discovery apps like Highlight, Sonar, and Evzdrop that lets users listen into the places and people around them. Still, despite a very crowded space, Banjo has grown significantly in the past year, and though ambient discovery apps might not have lived up to the hype at SXSW this year, it seems to be growing at a healthy pace.
However, the biggest challenge the company faces according to Patton will be shifting the mobile advertising paradigm to begin monetizing the platform, with no plans to turn to mobile display ads in the near future to generate revenue. It’s currently also working on building out a predictive element for the app which will be able to alert users of moments, places and people who mean most to them based on how they used the app. Ambient discovery apps have been criticized for everything from battery drain (since they run constantly in the background of a user’s phone) to privacy, and while not as popular as people once expected, Banjo’s growth shows that at least one app has been able to grow consistently this year.