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Place-based message board app ribl launches and learns at SXSW

Ribl co-founder Mike Chan promoting ribl at SXSW

A screenshot showing ribl in action

ribl, a location-based message board built in D.C., launched this week at SXSW in Austin. Launching the app, currently only available on Google Play, at the festival gave cofounders Mike Chan and Jeff Thorn "lots of great feedback," according to Chan. ribl has hired an iOS developer and will be launching an iOS version of its app soon.

Ribl allows users, or riblers, to share and discover what is happening around them via the app's message board. The service doesn't necessarily show "riblers" messages from their friends or family; rather, it uses a user's phone to figure out where they are and show them messages from people nearby.

Anything posted within a one-mile radius will show up on a "ribler's" phone. Those messages might be anything from specials at a restaurant or bar to messages about long lines at events (SXSW users) to reporting neighborhood crime and traffic situations. Users "boost" posts, similar to a Facebook "like," to spread the message further. Each boost adds a half-mile to the message's range.

Chan was originally inspired to create the app when he was trapped inside his building's parking garage during a police incident in the front of the building. He could see a woman taking photos of the incident with her phone and asking the police questions, and presumably posting the information somewhere, but without knowing the woman's name, he had no way of finding that information (which, he says, might have helped him figure out what was going on). "Over the next couple of days, we looked on local blogs, newspapers, Twitter, Facebook, and we couldn't find out anything about that situation. If that woman had ribl, then she could have posted info that she found out and her images, and everyone in our neighborhood would have been able to find out what had been going on, right there, without having to know her," he said.

Cofounders Mike Chan and Jeff Thorn decided to launch the app at the festival (complete with frog mascot costume) with the hope that it would go viral, in the way that Meerkat, a live-streaming video app for iOS, did (Meerkat annouced a $12 million Series B round post-SXSW). "It wasn't the huge, crazy, Twitter-force, South By launch that everyone hoped for," Chan says. "But we knew it was so early in [our] process. We doubled our downloads—obviously starting with a small base. We got a lot of great feedback. Our product wasn't quite there for that virality. We got the word out there and we got some pretty good press, both leading up to and at the event. We got people interested in the concept, so we can go forward."

Currently, ribl is free for users and bootstrapped; Chan anticipates needing to close some sort of seed round by the end of year. He says the company is "experimenting with in-app purchases" and once ribl has a larger user base, will add advertising into the monetizing mix. 

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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