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Google Asks 'Who's Down' For A New Social Network? Kids Answer GroupMe, Facebook, Texts And Snapchat

Google -- or what we may someday call Alphabet Inc. -- is once again trying its hand at social networking. This time, as with the ill-fated Google Plus, it's diving years late into a market already filled with players.

Called “Who’s Down,” Google’s latest mobile app allows people to swipe right on a slider that will show if they are free and broadcast a status update. “Anyone down … ” is automatically included and then you choose a “popular” phrase or type your own. Marketing art suggests “grab lunch?”; “workout?”; “watch a movie?” App users can see a feed of what their friends (added individually) have posted and then indicate interest.

Google’s apparent target market: college students. The app is currently invite-only and registering requires listing a school name. Yet, students said they already have apps that serve that purpose.

“If I want to hang out with people I already know, I'll send a message to the group chat I already have on iMessage or GroupMe,” said Ryan Lasker, a sophomore at George Washington University. “I don't think this meets any current market need in terms of hanging out with people who are currently friends.”

“If you're friends with someone, you should be able to text them anyway,” said Felix van der Vaart, a senior at Georgetown. “It doesn’t appeal to me personally. So much [of] what I’m interested in doing depends on the person I’m with.”

The concept of Who’s Down is nothing new; many other single-use apps are nearly identical. “It’s a really obvious idea. Most people interested in social have dreamed up some version of it,” said Max Stoller, a programmer behind Red/Green, an app also about broadcasting availability. “I’m skeptical because the approach doesn’t seem all that different from the many others that came and went before it.”

Shortnotice was developed in 2013, marketed to college students and had 3,500 active users as of June) and Free launched this summer. There’s also Foursquare’s Swarm, Apple’s Find My Friends and Facebook’s Nearby Friends.

In fact, Facebook had a similar feature that integrated within the mobile app. A five-month test of “status updates” on the sidebar of the Facebook app concluded in the company turning it off (on Friday, coincidentally the same day of Who’s Down’s release). “We listened to feedback and learned a lot about how people want to use the sidebar to stay connected with friends,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Verge.

Now, Who’s Down is Google’s answer and entry into the industry of impromptu planning. While Google could have acquired any number of startups in this space, the search giant instead dedicated about a year-and-a-half and a staff of about a dozen to the project, according to a source close to the company.

“I think they've seen the success of hyperlocal apps like Tinder, and there's Spotted in Germany,” said Evan Danckwerth, an analyst at PrivCo, a research firm focused on privately held companies. “They want to build it in house so they have the knowledge. They can afford to do that. It's not integrated right now, but they could connect it to Gmail, Google Plus, across the system.”

Rebranding Google’s Social

If nothing else, the Google Plus experience showed how foreign the concept of social apps is to the search giant. The network launched in 2011, seven years after Facebook. “All this fanfare and then we developed something that in the end was quite ordinary,” a former Google executive, who remained anonymous, told Mashable.

David Byttow, the tech lead behind Google+ and Waze who later co-founded anonymous messaging app Secret, echoed the company’s confused direction. “At first it felt like a startup, which was great. But the vision and implementation wasn't strong enough of a differentiator," Byttow said.


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