Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beluga is great fit for group events and breaking news


Last week during the the South by Southwest Interactive festival, I knew where all my friends and colleagues were and if their panel was a gem or a dud through a free group chat service call Beluga. The service was started by three former Google employees, and I hadn't heard of it before even though it had been in the news recently when it was bought by Facebook.

The group chat service (and there are others, like Yobongo and Groupme) is a great tool to use at a festival or other group event like SXSW, if for nothing else than to save all your Twitter followers from being flooded by massive amounts of tweets about a place where they wish they were but aren't, or never wanted to hear about in the first place.

The groups are called Pods, and it is very easy to set one up. When I created and Beluga account using Facebook Connect, the app found many of my friends that are on Beluga (probably my Facebook friends, but I didn't really think about it.) I could send a message to one of my friends, which creates a Pod, then add my other friends to the Pod.

When someone posts to a Pod you are in, you get a regular iPhone alert like a new text message, with the choice to view or close. (Beluga is available for Android as well.) When you are in the app, you can scroll back to see the chat log. You can mute a particular Pod or all alerts for an hour, until 8 a.m. or just turn them off. I found these mute options to be very handy as my SXSW buddies partied all night when I was at home with the kids.

A large pod can get pretty unwieldy, especially in the beginning as more and more people join or leave (you get a message each time.) I could see myself bailing quickly from a pod that was too large or active.

Our features editors at the Statesman used Beluga during the music festival when crowds dismantled a fence and rushed the stage at a free Stokes concert at Auditorium Shores. Editors and reporters were able to all quickly communicate with each other and deploy resources quickly and efficiently.

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