Put a Geofence Around Your Lunch

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So for me, lunch at work has generally been one of three things – eating by myself and reading, eating with co-workers, or meeting up with friends. While often a brief interlude of joviality or solitude, lunch has rarely been functional. Being an efficiency oriented guy (far too much, according to my wife), I decided to try a new service I had read about on TechCrunch called Let’s Lunch. Basically, this is a derivative of the old “It’s Just Lunch” couple matching service favored by urban office dwellers who prefer to see their date in broad daylight before a undertaking a nocturnal mission. Rather, Let’s Lunch is focused on bringing people together to meet for networking purposes.

It’s a dirty word, over used and kinda nasty – networking, I mean. But Let’s Lunch does a pretty nice job of it, and provides an interesting window into how a hyperlocal service can be more than a smartphone app providing deals or coupons or little league box scores. I am dead certain that, in my neighborhood, there are many other people I would like to meet but I don’t know who they are or what they are like. Let’s Lunch is like that except centered around your work, wherever that may be.

For the first time, you can actually get to know who is nearby. This is the argument that hyperlocal content sites have been making lately as they up the emphasis on community. I’m going to refer to it as a “geofence” I set up on Let’s Lunch during the sign-up process. The system only matches you with other members of the service who are located within your radius of preference. The assignments at this early stage are semi-random, in part because there are not enough people on the service to provide significant diversity of choices. That said, I can easily imagine setting parameters for the types of people I’d like to meet – RoR or Django gurus, please! — and using those parameters to perform the type of directed networking that LinkedIn nods to.

All told, I am seeing this trend of making transparent who is around you and what they are interested in pick up steam. Color, the mobile picture sharing network, is all about letting people share photos without really trying or even knowing each other very well. Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt (all flavors of check-in or mobile social networks) offer similar hyperlocal matchmaking potential, albeit far less directed.

I’m planning on adding Let’s Lunch to my usual rotation of weekly events. I had lunch with an interesting person, learned some things, and now have another contact in the Valley. It didn’t feel dirty. It was painless. In short, a win-win all around. I maintain the right of refusal, of course, and I’m sure I’ll break bread with some bozos, too. But meeting interesting people is always one of the best things in life and social discovery tools that can connect me easily with the people around me are a welcome addition to my social toolbelt.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday.