GroupMe, Fast Society Create Private Mobile Social Networks

Twitter and Facebook are good for broadcasting information or giving a shout-out to your friends and followers. But for the task of corralling your immediate pals while on the go, Twitter and Facebook aren’t always well suited or private enough for the task. A pair of New York-based start-ups are trying to fill that void, by providing simple , text-messaging based group chat solutions that can spring up around any event: a party, a concert or a night on the town.

GroupMe and Fast Society, which both rolled out in the last couple of months, are tapping into users’ phone contact lists to provide people with a simple way of coordinating and communicating with a small pack of their mobile friends. By going online or using an iPhone app (no other platforms are available right now), users can create a mobile chat group that connects people via text message. After responding to an invite, they can communicate with various members of the group with a single text message or can set up a spontaneous conference call with all the members of the group. After set-up, everything can be conducted via text message so users without a smartphone can stay up to speed.

GroupMe and Fast Society are gaining traction (the former says it is adding about 1,000 users a day) because they establish intimate, real-time communication channels that cut through the friend and follower overload of social networks — essentially, creating private mobile social networks on the fly, something that seems to fill a market need. The risk for both services, however, is that offering these kinds of features is relatively easy to replicate, thanks to cloud communications platforms like Twilio, which both GroupMe and Fast Society use as part of their networks.

The two services are similar in many ways, but also have some distinct differences. Fast Society is really meant for temporary conversations, so the “teams” that you create expire after a set time, up to three days. GroupMe groups don’t expire, so family members can create one phone number to communicate with everyone via SMS or voice calls. GroupMe limits groups to 25 people while FastSociety has a limit of 15.

GroupMe was started by Steve Martocci, a former Gilt Groupe engineer, and Jared Hecht, who used to do business development at Tumblr. After cobbling the service together at TechCrunch Disrupt’s Hackathon in May, the team has lined up an enviable roster of investors including Betaworks, Ron Conway’s SV Angel fund, First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures and several other angel investors. GroupMe has 40,000 users. Fast Society, meanwhile, was built by a trio of friends: Matthew Rosenberg, Andy Thompson and Michael Constantiner, who first created edopter in 2008, a social trend-watching site. The three continue to bootstrap Fast Society, which launched last month and has 10,000 users.

Group text messaging and conferencing calling has been around for years, but the advent of cloud-based communications platforms and the easy access to long codes (regular phone numbers that can be quickly provisioned for SMS use), is making the job a lot simpler. Both start-ups are racing to add new features and build business models around the services to stay ahead of competitors. GroupMe says it plans to add group buying, group planning, geo-location and sponsored pages while Fast Society is looking at premium features such as extended time limits and larger group sizes.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Thomas Hawk.