Today Austin, TX-based CanWe Studios announced a new app, CanWeNetwork, that takes the idea behind ambient discovery apps like Highlight, Banjo and Sonar and applies them to professional networking. The free app, which is available for iPhone and Android, analyzes users’ LinkedIn profile information and suggests people they should connect with who are nearby and who match their interests.
CanWe Studios VP James Sinclair said in an interview that the company was founded just over a year ago to find ways to use big data and prediction technology to create better intelligence between groups of people. Since then they developed their prediction engine Hercules, and released their first app, CanWeMeet, which was designed to help people connect in social settings. Sinclair said after a couple months of testing, they recognized that the bigger opportunity was in business connections.
“CanWeNetwork essentially says who is around me that I should have a conversation with,” Sinclair said. “For a lot of people, it’s tough to get out there, it’s tough to identify new networks, it’s tough to expand your network. We think this value on top of the LinkedIn platform…adding proximity, and adding some business intelligence into, can give people an incredible result.”
Users start by connecting their LinkedIn profile, and the app then pulls in their bio and connections, and starts suggesting the top five people to connect with nearby. Similar to discovery engine Discovr, recommendations are displayed as a visual map, each connection displayed as a bubble. Each connection is based on a percentage representing how strong of a match the person is based on their proximity, interests, and other criteria. Users can then connect with the recommendations by sending them a message from within the app, or view a list of everyone nearby if their connections aren’t relevant. Like other ambient discovery apps, the app runs in the background on a user’s smartphone, and it can send push notifications when it finds a new connection.
Sinclair said he envisions the app being used during a “moment of opportunity,” for example when someone is at a conference and wants to connect with other attendees, or when they’re sitting at the airport wondering if anyone else is there. “Now you can almost pre-qualify the people you want to meet, make that connection online, and then take it offline,” Sinclair said. “We’re looking for people to get off our app as quickly as possible. Make the connection, make the introduction, then have a conversation. We’re not looking for you to live within our ecosystem.”
The problem with apps like Highlight and Sonar is that when they aren’t used in big cities or at busy events, they can often feel sparse in terms of recommended connections. Sinclair said for CanWeNetwork, proximity matters, but since they’re not necessarily recommending people to meet up with at that very moment, they can recommend people that are 10 or 20 miles away. “That’s how we’ve solved both the scarcity and density conversation is ‘here’s some people, even if you’re in a rural area and there’s not that many people around you, we’re going to show you who we think the best match is, and maybe they’re not right next to you,'” he said.
Unlike competitors in the social discovery space like Highlight, CanWeNetwork only connects with LinkedIn and not with networks like Facebook and foursquare, and Sinclair said that’s key to setting them apart as a business networking tool. Ambient discovery apps in genearl have been criticized for broadcasting users’ whereabouts at all times, with Mashable’s Pete Cashmore calling them the scariest tech trend of 2012. To combat privacy concerns CanWeNetwork allows users to hide their profile picture and name, though Sinclair said people who don’t enable this feature get better connections.
Aside from this app, CanWe Studios also uses their outcome prediction engine to work with large companies on a case-by-case basis to help them develop business intelligence solutions, so Sinclair said they do have monetization plans for the app, but they’re not solely reliant on it (they also raised $1.5 million in funding in March 2012). He declined to share what those monetization options could be, but added that “we believe we can provide a value inside the app that can generate revenue.” Sinclair also said eventually they’d like to turn their underlying technology into a cloud-based self-service business intelligence platform.
Though ambient discovery apps were the buzz of the South by Southwest conference in March 2012, they’ve struggled to gain mass adoption. Twitter-based networking platform Hashable shut down in July 2012, and it brings up the question of whether people need another app on top of their existing social networks to find people nearby to connect with. For CanWeNetwork, Sinclair said the app is a proof of concept for how big data can affect businesses, and it’s also a way to generate leads for their business intelligence solution. The team will need to prove it can relevantly connect users beyond what they can currently find on LinkedIn’s mobile app or via their social networks in order to become more than just a showcase for CanWe Studios’ technology.