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”What the heck is going on around me?”

Cathy Cao is a recent MIT graduate with a passion for using social networking to become better informed about one’s local community and more knowledgeable about one’s global community. Social media should not be limited to sharing photos of food or cute animals to your friends. She believes it has so much more power and potential to influence and spread important words and knowledge to help people around the world.

geosocial.io is a location-based social news service that allows people to see the lives of their communities, cities, and countries on an interactive world map.

On geosocial.io, anyone can tap in and share anything interesting or important to his or her entire community. Because it provides a platform for posting, upvoting, and commenting on events at any level of granularity (like Reddit on Google Maps), the community decides what information is important or not.


BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share how the Boston Bombings last year helped serve as the springboard for inspiration for geosocial.io and desire to close the “information gap?”

Cathy: Yes. This is actually a personal experience I had. On the day of the Boston Bombings, I was on an Amtrak train coming into Boston from New York. I had almost reached Backbay station, when I heard a loud sound outside my window. Just like everyone else on the train, I reached out for my phone, and the first thing I checked was Facebook to see if my friends in Boston knew anything about it. There was nothing on my feed yet, but a few minutes later, I saw my friends posting about a bomb in Copley. I had so many questions I wanted answers to, but I did not know where to search: Is it safe to go outside or should I stay in the station? Are subway trains running? Where exactly should I stay away from? What the heck is going on around me? I panicked and started looking at other sites for more information about this bomb, but I could not find answers. I wished there was a site I could go to and get answers from actual witnesses near the marathon finish or at the train stations, answers from strangers, from people I am not connected to on Facebook and Twitter.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some ways that geosocial.io allows people to better understand their communities and know what’s happening around them?

Cathy: For those who have walked past a line of police cars or a loud crowd and wondered, “What is happening here?” or for those who have traveled to a new state or country and wondered, “What is the local culture here? What do the locals usually do?”, geosocial.io can help answer those questions. geosocial.io also aims to help specific interest groups, like bikers for instance, find out about dangerous crossroads and streets to stay away from. The service can also help university students find free food and working individuals find out about any cool events or activities happening in that area at that specific time. Our long-term goal for geosocial.io is to see users zooming into specific addresses, zooming out and browsing the world map, and zooming back into any specific locations. People will know what popular things are happening simultaneously around their families or friends in various small towns on the other side of globe. Imagine if during the 2011 Japanese Tsunami and Earthquake, we could have zoomed over to Japan and seen real-time photos and videos from witnesses of the events– photos and videos that normally only get shared on Facebook or Twitter.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk about the process of getting students at one of the top universities in the world to use geosocial.io to stay informed in their university community and any challenges that you faced along the way?

Cathy: We were constantly facing the “empty restaurant” problem. In order to acquire users, we needed valuable content, and in order to get valuable content, we needed users who posted. To solve this issue, we created a “content team” from our first 200 users. We had about 10 people on the team and met once a month, providing our team members with free food. However, after 3 meetings, we realized we did not have enough money to sustain the team, and so the team slowly drifted apart, except for a couple of individuals who really passionate about the idea. The rest of the team and our efforts on social media, especially Facebook, helped us greatly with our marketing efforts at MIT. Because our target was MIT, it was not difficult to promote our content on Facebook for users in the MIT community to see since most of my Facebook network was MIT-affiliated.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some emerging trends in social entrepreneurship that you’re excited about or think that our readers should be paying attention to?

Cathy: Social media is not just about posting pictures of food or cute animals for your friends to see. It can and should be much more than that. Many critics have started arguing that social media has made us more ignorant in ways because we have become “enclosed” within our own social networks. Typically on Facebook and Twitter, we only see what our “friends” or “followers” share with us. It is impressive to see some changes and emerging trends in social entrepreneurship in which social media is used to help those who are strangers to you.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some features that you’d like add to the geosocial.io platform over the next year?

Cathy: Some of our users have approached us for specific features, and we will be performing UI tests on whether or not we ultimately want to include certain features. However, we would like to add: the ability to sign up with users’ Facebook accounts, the ability to post to geosocial.io and automatically have it post to users’ other social media sites, color-coded tags and story cards to differentiate each type of post (events, real-time content, links, only text), customized privacy settings as we expand, and the ability to follow certain locations and interest groups.

BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for geosocial.io?

Cathy: We are currently developing our mobile apps, which will be released within the next two months. Once we have those, posting real-time content will be much easier, and we are expecting a lot of good-quality, valuable content for the community. After that, we will also be expanding to other universities in the Greater Boston area.

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