Specialised social media startups orbiting big platforms

25 October 2013 by Steve Blum
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TripIt serves up travel.

Three social networking platforms were on display at Pepcom’s Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco last week. One is already a winner, one isn’t ready for prime time and the third, well, maybe it’s me.

TripIt has been around since 2006, and has found a niche with a double-headed business model. On one side, it’s a travel organiser. You email airline tickets, hotel reservations, meeting schedules and pretty much anything else you do on the road. It automagically sorts the emails into trips and sends you updates and reminders as you go. It’s not perfect – sometimes you have to go in and sort uncommon things out – but it gets major airlines and hotels just fine.

On the other hand, it gives selected information to people within the TripIt social network and sends a limited feed to your other social networks, if you want. It’ll also tell you if people you know are nearby, assuming you’re connected to them and they’re willing to share their data. Because it’s a small network – a few million users – that feature is of limited value, but your Facebook and LinkedIn friends can keep track of you, and that might be enough.

One great TripIt feature, that you need to upgrade to pro level at $50 a year to get, is the ability to share the details of your itineraries with family and coworkers. It saves an incredible amount of hassle if you travel a lot. It’s the only social network and one of the very few freemium online services that I’ve paid to upgrade. My only complaint is its lack of data portability.

MySocialGPS is an attempt to create a social network and ad platform around the current location of yourself and your friends. It’s playing in the same space as Foursquare and RallyUp, among others. The interface is basic and not particularly slick, and I encountered many bugs just trying sign up. Might be worth another look in a few months, or not.

I haven’t really figured out Mashalot, and that might just be because I’m not a chronic shopper. Near as I can tell, it lets you share pictures of what you’re seeing while you shop, so your friends can get some vicarious retail therapy. Cool. But the iPad app is glitchy and the sign up process is unnecessarily nosy. Or maybe I just have a bad attitude about it. Your mileage may vary.

Mashalot’s strength is its (apparent) integration with the big, general purpose social media networks, an advantage it shares with TripIt. If it can do shopping as elegantly as TripIt does travel, there’s a future for it. A specialised platform that does small, useful things, lets you share deep details with a chosen few and broadcasts occasional tidbits to your wider social circle is an excellent business model.