Location-based group chat. It’s just one of those ideas that everyone seems to be convinced is a good one, but that no one has really pulled off well just yet.
Tossing their chips into the local chat game today is Palringo, which began its life back in 2007 as the iPhone’s first multi-network IM client. Their kicker? They’ve already got an established userbase of around 11 million users.
For the sake of full disclosure: Palringo will be in the StartupAlley at next week’s TechCrunch Disrupt. Given that I wasn’t aware of this until well after I started writing this post, however, I can quite confidently say this didn’t affect my decision to cover the update.
With localized chat, there seems to be two different approaches: pinning clusters of users together automagically behind the scenes (a la Yobongo), or letting uses create/join geotagged rooms on their own. Palringo has gone with the latter.
After you’ve logged into Palringo, you’re shown the standard IM screen with its support for AIM, ICQ, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live, Facebook, Palringo’s own chat network, and myriad other services. Once you’ve grown bored of the friends you’ve already got, however, a Groups tab down at the bottom leads to a land of new folks — albeit one seemingly filled mostly with kids being kids, people asking each other if they’re over 18, trolls, people complaining about trolls, and trolls trolling people complaining about trolls. Turns out, not much has changed since the “OMG ASL?! Type 1 if you like Hanson“-filled chat rooms of the mid 90′s.
Hopefully the new geotagging features can help fix that. Each new group can be geotagged with a location around which it centers, connecting you with people nearby — which, at least in theory, improves the quality of conversation and connections made. All groups can be viewed on a map, letting you tap around until you find one that fits your interests. Within about 40 miles east of my area, for example, there are currently three: one for people who live in Fremont, one up in Walnut Creek for people who want to talk about Blizzard games, and one way out in Antioch that, as far as I can tell, primarily discusses where to buy weed.
From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not too convinced Palringo will come out on top of the location chat game. Hell, after seeing a number of launches in this space with none that I’m aware of managing to maintain any sort of regular user base, I’m still not even entirely convinced such a game truly exists.