03:30 PM

MingleNow - social networking that mingles online and offline

I just got an early briefing on an interesting idea for social networking coming out of BlueLithium, the online advertising agency headquartered in San Jose, CA. It's an idea developed in Blue Lithium Labs, the R&D component of the business, to solve some social networking problems of their own.

"We've earned a reputation for hosting some great parties and we wanted to put some of that experience to work in this venture," says Dakota Sullivan, chief marketing officer at BlueLithium.

This is the overview: people register with MingleNow and say where they hang out, which bars, restaurants, clubs, etc. The site will have a very large national database of nearly every social place. Users will also be able to create their own places such as a corner of a college campus, or a camp at Burningman.

"There will be a page for every place that exists in the real world and you'll be able to see pictures of the people that go to that place," says Mr Sullivan.

One of the goals/solutions is to figure out where your friends are going to be hanging out, which clubs, parties etc; it will show which places they have committed to going. "That makes it easier to decide where to go when you are planning your weekend," says Mr Sullivan.

Another aspect of this venture is the belief that the places where people hang out says a lot about their personalities and the things that they like. This makes it easier for people to "mingle" online and offline with like-minded others.

Also, restaurants and bars and clubs would be able to get feedback on menu changes, for example. And to build communities around their businesses.

Users would be able to rate those places and also rate each other for flakiness (not turning up at an event when you said you would). And users could compete for "VIP" status by inviting friends and being active in the online/offline community.

The public beta of MingleNow will be rolled out later in August, nationwide, you can preregister now. And after the US roll out, the United Kingdom is the next target.

MingleNow already has some investors interested in the venture, which will become a standalone entity. For now, BlueLithium will incubate the project.

Krishna Subramanian, is the lead developer of MingleNow, he was a former club promoter so has a lot of experience in these social areas. "We will also add a dodgeball type function to mobile platforms so that people can tell their friends where they are located," says Mr Subramanian.

He adds that there will be RSS feeds available for nearly every data point in MingleNow, allowing users to aggregate the information in many ways.

SVW's take: It's an interesting approach to social networks and Blue Lithium is taking the right approach by overlaying the online and offline worlds. There are several issues to deal with, such as the private versus pubic nature of the information, the trust aspect of the users with each other, and the gaming that will inevitably occur in the competitive restaurant/bar/club business.

It is an idea that could be extended to other businesses such as dental offices, even schools, any physical location. It will be interesting to see how groups of users will interact with MingleNow and the direction it takes might not always be the most obvious one.

Different uses might appear in different geographies. If the MingleNow platform is versatile enough, it will be able to accommodate many different groups of users. I'm looking forward to trying it out.