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This app wants to be the social network of the future -- literally

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

If Facebook was once purely a social network, those days are long gone. The company has evolved into a tech titan that counts Apple and Google as its peers. Facebook (FB) now offers live video-streaming, sponsored content, commerce, messaging services, real-time sports chat, and even has plans to bring wi-fi signal to remote regions via drones and satellites.

That's a lot of different functions, and as a result, Andrew Butash, the founder of social travel app Gypsy Circle, says Facebook is no longer the best place to post certain information you want friends to see. Yes, Facebook enjoys a massive built-in audience of more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, but your posts can too often be lost in the noise. Moreover, Facebook continually alters its algorithm that determines how many people even see your posts. Butash calls Gypsy Circle "the first future-tense social network."

Gypsy Circle's plan is to go niche and focused: it aims to be the de facto place where people share their travel plans with friends. The app lets you see your friends' scheduled trips, and sends you a push alert when a friend is in town. Butash got the idea while backpacking with friends across Europe. "We wanted to figure out who was going to be where, and when," he says. "Whether it was people we met in hostels, or friends we knew that lived in a certain city... it's all about avoiding missed connections."

Gypsy Circle first launched in the iOS App Store in July 2015, but the startup has basically been in stealth mode until now. It is in the process of closing its seed round and has four employees. This week, it released a new version of the app that implements a host of features aimed at pushing the concept of a closed, intimate social network for frequent travelers. In an era of couch-surfing and the rise of Airbnb, the appeal is obvious. And Gypsy Circle's new promo video, its first stab at advertising, frames the user base in the exact way you'd expect: young, attractive millennials traveling around the world, taking photos and meeting up with friends.

"The problem with Facebook," Butash says, "is you're probably friends with people like professors or cousins, people that you don't want seeing your trip to Cabo." As examples of similar, more intimate social networks, he cites Snapchat, Instagram and Peach. "Everyone's going toward more niche, private, curated social circles," he says.

Naturally, traveling also means trying out restaurants and staying in hotels, so Gypsy Circle will soon add the ability to upload user-generated content like reviews and tips. Because these tips would come from your own social circle, Butash reasons that the intel will be more valuable than it is on TripAdvisor (TRIP) or Yelp (YELP), where the reviews are from strangers.

Of course, a social platform is only as powerful as its user base. Any new social product faces a gargantuan challenge: getting people to use it. The rise of social apps for specific purposes, like Instagram for photos, Snapchat and Vine for videos, or Periscope for live streaming, means that a typical, tech-savvy person's phone is pretty cluttered with apps. Do people really need another one? And: Why wouldn't someone just post their travel plans on Facebook, which they know all of their friends use?

Butash responds that posting to Facebook, or checking in to a location on Foursquare, is a past-oriented action; it's a way of saying, "I was here," or "I did this." Gypsy Circle stresses the future—it's for telling your friends "I will be here" on X future date. Social media trends, Butash predicts (and hopes, for the sake of his product), are going, "from past check-ins, like on Foursquare or Facebook, to more present tense, on Instagram or Snapchat or Meerkat. I think the next step for the social network is future tense."


Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. 

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