SocialGreat: The Best Little Location-Based Startup Aggregator in Texas

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Buck's of Woodside, a favorite Silicon Valley eatery, was a ghost town last week as the tech hordes descended on Austin, Texas. At the annual South by Southwest festival and conference, the mantra of both VCs and tech rock stars wasn't "plastics" but "location-based mobile services."

No surprise there. From Twitter to FourSquare to Gowala, the hottest startups in tech are converging on various flavors of the mobile business that centers on location-specific offerings, from coupons to social networks to geotagging. But the biggest winner to emerge from SXSW is SocialGreat. A startup that hasn't attracted much press, SocialGreat is a very well-designed, location-based information aggregator founded by Jon Steinberg, a veteran of the business development team in Google's (GOOG) advertising unit in New York.

Its slogan says it all: "Where's the crowd?" SocialGreat aggregates all the streams of information coming from the various location-based mobile networks and displays this information in a very easy-to-read, city-by-city, venue-by-venue format. Want to see the most popular location at any given moment for people on location-networks in Lower Manhattan? SocialGreat can tell you how many people using FourSquare, Twitter, Gowala, or Loopt have checked into the Bowery Ballroom on Delancey Street for a rock show. Want to see which restaurants in San Francisco's South-of-Market nabe are the most popular nosheries for the technorati? Check SocialGreat.

Voyeurism at Its Finest

The power of SocialGreat was clearly evident at SXSW (which I did not attend, but watched longingly from Sunnyvale, Calif.). Tens of thousands of check-ins on various social networks showed up on SocialGreat. Beyond the massive bulges at the obvious places, like the Austin Convention Center, the real fascination was seeing how many users had gone to other venues, and watching trends throughout the day. It was Internet voyeurism and information-gathering -- rolled into one easy-to-digest little package.

I spoke to Steinberg briefly this week about SocialGreat. The company is just a side project for Steinberg, an executive-in-residence at Dogpatch Labs, the incubator space of the Polaris Venture Partners in Manhattan's Flatiron District, where numerous promising mobile startups began. (Full disclosure. I initially trashed SocialGreat in a blog comment, noting that it looked like a feature, not a company. But that was when SocialGreat only pulled in FourSquare check-ins.)

Now that the firehose is on, SocialGreat is a whole lot more interesting to look at, and it has multiple city coverage with loads of neat data. "I wanted to make an aggregator of mobile data that would be interesting to the majority of people who are not 'checking in' or creating mobile content. It's just like YouTube," Steinberg says. Which is Google smart: The aggregators have always been the big winners in the Internet landscape -- at various times, that's meant Google, Netscape, AOL (AOL), and Yahoo! (YHOO).

Will Google Grab It?

How will Steinberg monetize SocialGreat? "Maybe takeovers by food and drink brands," he says. (All the data, he notes, is anonymous, and he has no plans for personalized marketing efforts.) "It's a small side project. I hadn't really thought that much about what to do it if gets really big."

But big is already getting pretty close. With 39,300 SocialGreat users (as of Wednesday morning) in 25 cities, the company appears poised to take off. It's moving its infrastructure to more robust cloud-based architecture.

Will acquisition-happy Google make a play to bring SocialGreat into its growing collection of mobile plays? Steinberg says the Mountain View giant isn't interested -- but you could've said the same thing about Aardvark (also founded by an ex-Googler) a few months ago, before Google popped the $50 million question and bought it. Call it a pattern -- or call it following the crowd.
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