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And Now The True Test For Hot Beta Chat App Yobongo: Going Live

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We’ve written about Yobongo a couple of times now. It’s an interesting concept (location-centric realtime mobile chat) with great execution. But that execution has so far only had to withstand 140 or so beta testers. Starting today, the app goes live to everyone in three major cities: San Francisco, New York, and Austin, Texas.

The last one is key, as part of Yobongo’s launch strategy is clearly to capture the hearts of those attending this year’s SXSW conference in Austin. We’re now a week away from the beginning of that conference, so the Yobongo team will have seven days to make sure their system is up to the task of managing hundreds — and hopefully thousands — of simultaneous messages flowing in realtime.

Yobongo co-founder Caleb Elston says they’ve already learned quite a bit from the closed beta, noting that they’re very pleased with the usage patterns they’re seeing. For example, 80 percent of the people testing Yobongo sign in everyday. And they average about 10 sign-ins per day while sending about 30 messages each day. That’s some solid engagement.

They’ve learned too that people prefer to speak when someone else they know is in the room. That’s been an important lesson for the team as they’re finally going to turn on the location layer that will split up cities into different rooms available for chatting. Yobongo handles the room placement behind the scenes based on your social interactions within the app. Again, none of this has been publicly tested out yet, so these next seven days are going to be key.

While Yobongo is only going live in the three aforementioned cities, the app will be live in the App Store across the U.S. shortly. If you download the app and don’t live in one of the initial Yobongo cities, you can use the app to vote to bring the service to your city. Elston says this can definitely help determine their expansion pattern.

Elston also warns that they’ll be quick with the ban hammer if they see people abusing Yobongo. They only want people willing to use their real names and share a real picture of themselves as their profile picture. In fact, Elston even made me change mine, which had been a golden pig eating out of a trashcan.

You don’t think of people by their Twitter name. You think of what they look like,” Elston says. Eventually, seeing a familiar face over and over again can help establish a connection, is his thinking. And the location element is key there too. “Friendship is almost always based on location. At the office, for example. People congregate around their location,” he says. “What separates you from being friends with someone is much smaller than what people think,” he concludes.

Aside from the three city roll-out, Yobongo will also be iPhone-only for now.

Update: And here’s the link for the app in the App Store.