As debated on Quora, it's widely assumed the best candidates for a boost from SXSW would be those useful at the event itself, be it for discovering top parties, debating keynotes and panels, and enabling people to communicate in the sometimes frenetic venue with spotty wireless support. This leads us to Beluga and Yobongo - the first enabling free texting between friends with intelligent linkage to location data and photos support, and the second offering location-based chat with complete strangers. But Yobongo doesn't have multi-platform support yet (including Android), and Beluga is already seeing good cross-platform engagement from early adopters, former Googlers, and is gaining awareness in the mainstream, especially after having been featured in the Android Market this week by Google - goosing the app's download numbers significantly.
The group chat field is one that is becoming increasingly crowded, with TextPlus, GroupMe and now Beluga being the best-known players. But Beluga, without the 10 million in funding gained by GroupMe, already has an extremely smooth application that integrates well with both mobile and Web-based activity, supports multiple mobile OSes and is very lightweight. As I've seen new "pods" started within my groups of friends, for the casual to the more business-oriented, it's obvious that a simple and fast way to exchange messages in groups, independent of the larger networks, like Twitter and Facebook, is much desired.
Guessing where the application could go in the future would be especially interesting as well. Recall how Brizzly Picnics had both private and public options, letting you publish question and answer chats to the Web for all to see? Today, all Beluga Pods are private to only the participants. There could come a real opportunity to make select Pods public, or even to established tiered roles for such Pods, so you could have read-only participants and moderators for public events, such as SXSW and others.
Foursquare's Dennis Crowley on Beluga's Growth Beyond the Mainstream
If it wasn't enough to just speculate about how the app could perform on the public stage, I was backed by Siobhan Quinn, product manger at Foursquare, who said in one of our Beluga Pods that "Beluga is going to blow up SXSW." Activity in individual pods is jumping, users are joining and feedback so far has been very good. It's been an eventful month for the service already, even over a usually-quiet Holiday break, but the next few months could be very loud indeed.
If you're not already using Beluga, go check it out at http://belugapods.com. Want to add me to a pod? Just use my email address and I'll join.