Just In Time For SXSW, Social Discovery Service Sonar Arrives On Android

Social discovery service (and TechCrunch Disrupt alumni) Sonar has some big news today, and just in time for SXSW: it’s arriving on Android. According to founder Brett Martin, support for the Android platform has long been users’ most frequent request for the service.

But that’s not the only thing that’s new. Along with the Android launch, the company is also making a slight, but important shift, in terms of how it will show its users recommended people nearby.

Starting with the Android launch, instead of focusing on people checked in to particular venues, Sonar is now expanding to show you just those people close to your current location and then ranking them by relevancy. Before, Sonar showed its results first as a list of places, which you would then tap into to see its people recommendations. Going forward, the app is defaulting to a people list which starts with your friends, then shows you other relevant folks nearby. (However, you can still switch over to the Places list if you prefer).

Although there are a lot of apps now competing in the newly hot “social discovery” space, Sonar’s position in this battle has been to focus on its ranking technology as its defining factor.

“We spent the past several months really investing in our technology platform, and with this new app you’re going to start to see the fruits of that labor,” explains Martin. “The most obvious part of it is that Sonar before was very venue-focused…but now we’re doing this thing called ‘people nearby.'”

Basically, he says, the app looks at every person near you who has tweeted or who has checked in on Facebook or Foursquare, and it appends as much information as possible to them, including their Facebook and LinkedIn profile information, for example.

The company has also been working to integrate other sources of data into its platform, including things like Facebook and LinkedIn Events, as well as RSVP’s from invite services like Eventbrite. Obviously, these sorts of features would come in handy for an event like SXSW, which involves parties, activities and events which are often so crowded it’s hard to find who you may know (or want to know) in the room.

In preparation for SXSW, Sonar is partnering with several events and is analyzing their RSVP lists to make recommendations which will be sent out prior to the event itself to Sonar users.

Martin admits that Sonar is in a very crowded space, but he believes that they have the best ranking technology when it comes to its people recommendations. As to what makes it the best? Says Martin, “it’s our ability to synthesize profiles across networks in real time, and really dig in and give you the richest information about people nearby.”

Plus, he adds, “having LinkedIn alone at a work conference like SXSW is obviously something people are really going to want.”

These features, as well as the Android version, are starting to arrive today (the iPhone updates are arriving over the course of the week). The Android version launches first, but will be in beta. To download the Android app, you’ll need to use the code TECHCRUNCH for an invite by clicking here: bit.ly/sonarandroidbeta. There are just 250 invites available, unfortunately, so hurry.

As for what’s in the works for Sonar in the future, it sounds like there may be an API in the works. When describing the platform’s new Everbrite integration for RSVP list parsing, Martin says, “you can see how Sonar can apply its people recommendations not just in our app, but outside of our in other people’s applications and applications across the web.”

Oh, so a Sonar API?, we asked.

“I didn’t say that. But that’s good intuition on your part,” Martin responded.

Sounds intriguing.