BNDWGN, a new app from the makers of free texting service HeyWire, is launching what's being called a “content messenger” service. The app is a combination of private friend-to-friend(s) chat and social media aggregation. Using BNDWGN, you can combine various streams from sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram into an interest-focused group which can be as narrowly defined as “Lady Gaga” or as broadly defined as “Tech.” And because you're the creator of these content channels called “BNDWGNs” (say: “bandwagons”), the streams you include can extend beyond the official social media presences for the topic at hand. You can include any other things you want in these streams, like Facebook fan pages, Twitter users who share your interests, Instagram hashtags, and more.
According to HeyWire CEO Meredith Flynn-Ripley, the idea for BNDWGN sprung from watching how people were using HeyWire, the company's social communication utility. For those unfamiliar, HeyWire's free SMS service launched back in September 2010, and allows users to text, tweet, and Facebook chat from within one app. It now has over 3 million active users monthly who spend 10 hours in the app per month, and recently hit its 2 billionth message sent.
“It really was created out of the activity that we saw in HeyWire from the group messaging,” says Flynn-Ripley of BNDWGN's creation. “We saw that groups would form around a particular topic or event, they'd talk and then the group would go away. It wouldn't be this ongoing stream.” Another inspiration for the service was what she described as a feeling of being in “social network overload mode.” She was looking for a way to get the info she wanted by organizing it around topics. Some topics may be temporary – for example, news from a conference you want to track (like TechCrunch Disrupt, e.g.) – while others may represent longer-term interests.
While its ability to aggregate from social media isn't necessarily a new invention, BNDWGN has added an additional element to its service: private conversations. In each BNDWGN created, users can add friends who can then all message each other about the content contained within. Users can only message Facebook friends running the app, however, but content stays private unless explicitly shared to Facebook.
You can also join other, public BNDWGNs submitted by the community if you're just looking for topics to follow. The ability to publish your own BNDWGNs in this way won't arrive until a future update, though.
As new content arrives in the BNDWGNs you're in, you're notified via push messaging. But, as Flynn-Ripley points out, how often you receive these messages is up to you. “You can basically say ‘notify me when new content comes into the streams: never, every hour, or once a day,” she explains, “but more importantly, you can also just set it on ‘notify me when friends are chatting,' that is, sending messages in the BNDWGN. That's going alert me to ‘oh, something interesting is happening because a friend of mine is commenting on it,'” she says. A future release will allow you to configure the notification settings on per-BNDWGN basis.
The company is now reaching out to major media brands, music, celebrities, and other companies with a large number of social media fan followers in order to create partnerships that would allow the brands to create their own official BNDWGN streams. HeyWire would then share aggregate, anonymized data with their partners detailing the trends around the content in BNDWGN – e.g., what was shared, how did people react, etc. “We see this as a new level of sentiment analysis,” says Flynn-Ripley. “When brands are in social media they know how many people like them, how many people are following them, they see what people are posting publicly on their walls…but they understand that people are consuming their media and sharing it with friends privately, and they have no insight into that.”
Although HeyWire is backed by investor Lauder Partners, its founding is a little atypical in terms of tech startups. The company was founded by a merger and is now run by MediaFriends, which has $10 million in funding. But HeyWire is planning to raise funding for BNDWGN separately, and is now in the process of having conversations about a Series A.
The new app is initially available for Android only. The iOS app will arrive in July.