Sonar Releases Update, Positions for a Fight

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Sonar, the default incumbent in the exploding social discovery space, has released a substantial update to its iOS app in time for South by Southwest. The upgrade brings a handful of features that debuted with the launch of its Android app on Tuesday – namely, a shift in its user interface from displaying neighboring venues to nearby people on its launch screen.

Sonar’s CEO Brett Martin says that today’s update is the beginning of a series of iterations that will surface over the next couple updates. “We’ve spent the last few months really investing in our technology, and you are going to start seeing the fruits of that labor,” he told Street Fight in an interview.

A big focus for the New York-based company has been in improving its social rankings system, which determines a user’s connectedness with others. Martin says Sonar has made big strides in its “social profile concordance” system, which enables its software to gather and access an individual’s total social presence — Facebook, Foursquare, Linkedin, etc — on the fly, allowing for a richer dataset to analyze for connections.

Though rankings are an important component in social discovery products and a major asset for Sonar, success will largely be determined by the core technological differences between services like Sonar from the up-and-coming ambient sharing plays like Highlight and Glancee. Both segments are providing similar answers, but they are building around deeply different technological problems.

At its core, Sonar is responding to a data fragmentation and management problem: “How can we aggregate and analyze the vast sea of geo-social signals published to the web through a myriad of platforms in real-time for a customized location, and how do we do this at scale?” Though Sonar offers users the ability to check-in, they are largely not in the business of create signals.

Highlight and Glancee, on the other hand, are very much in this business. Their core technology aims to solve a location transmission problem. How can we build a system that can publish a user’s location without their explicit (case-by-case) consent? Highlight essentially has essentially created the framework for a fluid social network, customized in real-time for each user based on social and physical proximity to one another.

The future of social discovery will likely require both transmission and analytics. What remains to be seen is the direction in which, it is easier to build.

“I think that there is totally a place for implicit location sharing. It’s something we would consider [exposing] if people opted in,” said Martin about Sonar’s ability to add on a passive location-sharing feature. “We already collect that data, so it’s an UX decision not to expose it. That said, a lot of social networks are not built on incredibly complicated technology.”

Steven Jacobs is an associate editor at Street Fight.