BNDWGN and the Future of Social Tech: Q&A with Meredith Flynn-Ripley

6/29/12Follow @gthuang

The social-mobile app with no vowels is off and running.

BNDWGN, from the Cambridge, MA-based makers of HeyWire, a texting and social messaging service, was released into the wild earlier this week. It’s available on Android devices, with an Apple iOS version expected soon. But what does it say about the future of social and mobile tech (a very crowded and noisy sector, to be sure)?

Well, the idea is to aggregate your social-media streams from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on into a unified platform, organized by topics (“bandwagons”). These topics can be anything from sporting events and teams to celebrities, music, and brands. You can then communicate with others in your network about those topics in a private way—with only the people who care about those topics. It’s a new way of slicing the social graph, and it shares some similarities with approaches from other local companies such as Springpad (organized around notebooks) and Kibits (private micro-networks), both of which have been in the news as of late.

I first heard about BNDWGN back in January. It sounded intriguing, but it also raised deeper questions about how people will choose to communicate and share information on mobile devices. And how companies can make money with new social/mobile platforms. (HeyWire is now profitable—I think that’s via white-label partnerships with brands, but see below.) Surely this is just the beginning.

So I checked in with Meredith Flynn-Ripley, the CEO of HeyWire and conceptual mastermind behind BNDWGN. She’s a broadband and mobile veteran with 20 years of experience in consumer- and media-tech companies.

Here are three questions with her about the new app and why it’s important:

Xconomy: It’s hard to bring myself to try a new social app or private social network, because there’s already too much to keep track of. How does BNDWGN help with the information overload problem?

Meredith Flynn-Ripley: Being overwhelmed is a natural reaction to the sheer amount of information that’s flying our way over social media channels. The feeling you describe of already having too much to keep track of was actually one of our motivations in starting BNDWGN. BNDWGN is not another social network or new type of social media, it’s an app that lets you take control of your social media life by “filtering out the noise” and delivering to you the information you don’t want to miss, when you want it. It also lets you experience and share that information privately with your friends that also care about that information.

The beauty of BNDWGN is that it lets users select their favorite social media from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram (more content sources to come in the future), organize it into relevant streams around specific topics, with delivery and notification settings they control, and lets their friends jump on so that everyone receives the information in real-time and can chat about it and experience it together privately.

In fact, on a personal note, my daughter deals with dyslexia. Facebook is often hard to navigate for people with dyslexia because it’s information constantly streaming in without a lot of structure. She’s already created 2 BNDWGNs precisely because it better organizes the content into logical topics and makes it easier for her to follow.

X: How significant is the new app to your overall business? Can you say a bit about your partnership and monetization strategy?

MFR: We have developed BNDWGN to continue our mission of connecting people in better ways through innovative approaches to mobile messaging. HeyWire is now profitable and continues to grow nicely. We believe BNDWGN will make a significant impact in how people consume social media and Web content and experience it with their friends, and see BNDWGN as expanding our business even further.

Regarding monetization, we just launched the app this week and are focused on creating the best user experience possible. However, we are currently in discussions with major media companies, music artists, celebrities, and brands about partnership opportunities with BNDWGN to reach their social media fans in new ways. The BNDWGN partner program provides preferred placement, an ability to customize social content and a unique way to allow fans to interact with artist, media, and brand content. We’ve been getting a great response from many of the companies so far and expect to have more information about that in the near future.

X: Where do you see group messaging and social media heading? In five years, how will we all communicate and share information—i.e., will Facebook and Twitter morph into something else?

MFR: The past five years have seen a huge explosion in the use of social media and messaging. But as people’s social networks have grown to include large numbers of friends and different groups all lumped together, there’s a growing need for a more filtered, private way to consume and share social media and Web content.

Public postings will continue, but more and more people are looking for ways to help manage the “social media overload” syndrome and have at their fingertips more organized ways to view the content they love. And for more private sharing options with smaller groups than ALL of their Facebook Friends or Twitter followers.

Group messaging is already evolving from big public chat rooms filled with blather into smaller groups of typically 4 or 5 friends chatting about things that really mean something to them.

We see the next five years as being a time when new apps and services will arise to help users organize their social media lives AND share that information more privately with smaller groups of friends, and we envision BNDWGN being a big part of both of these movements.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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