Sunday, July 3, 2011

OC Inspires Social Phone App

Brett Martin shows off the new Sonar app he created. /
Thomas Melville/Daily Times
The Daily Times
Written by Charlene Sharpe

OCEAN CITY -- When asked how he came up with the concept behind his new iPhone app, Sonar, company founder Brett Martin started talking about Ocean City.

Having grown up in the resort, Martin knows well the transformation it undergoes from May to September, when the quiet waterfront town is filled to capacity, with every hotel swamped with umbrella-toting, beach chair-dragging families and rentals overrun with college students working by day and partying by night.

"You've got that small-town feeling, but it's hyper-socialized," said 28-year-old Martin, who now lives in New York.

The busy atmosphere, where locals find friends for a week at a time, is just the place to try Sonar. The app lets users know who and what they have in common with other people at their location. As Martin puts it, it shows users that strangers aren't so strange.

"It uncovers the hidden connections you share with people nearby," Martin said.

Sonar uses information from sites such as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter to show users how they are connected to other people who are checked in at the same location.

"It canvasses the Internet for people who have declared themselves there," he said.

It then provides the user with a list of the other people at the location and how they are relevant -- whether they share Facebook friends, went to the same college or like the same bands.

While it functions best at locations such as concerts and conferences where there are large numbers of people, Sonar works anywhere that people might be hanging out, Martin said. He theorized Seacrets during Fourth of July weekend would be a good spot for Sonar.

He said what's great about Sonar is that people do not need to be using it to show up as a connection. If they use Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, Sonar can figure that out and make use of location-based data in those applications.

"You'll meet all sorts of people you'd never have known," Martin said.

Since being launched five weeks ago, Sonar -- a free app -- has attracted tens of thousands of users, Martin said.

About Martin

A Worcester Preparatory School graduate, he worked as an investment banker and completed a sailing trip from Maine to Dominica before deciding to learn to write code for computer applications.

Merle Marsh, director of special projects at Worcester Preparatory School, said she's not surprised Martin came up with such an innovative product. Martin, who attended Dartmouth College after Worcester Prep, was also a Fulbright Fellow, Marsh said, studying in Italy.

"Brett Martin is an extremely bright and creative young man," Marsh said. "Even when he was in our Lower School here at Worcester Prep, I could tell he was able to think outside the box."

Martin said his early teachers at Worcester Prep and even his summer employers at Malibu's Surf Shop helped get him to where he is now.

"They were the ones telling me to do what I wanted to do, and that's what I'm doing," he said.
HOW TO GET THE PHONE APPVisit to learn about the free app, which is available on Apple's App Store. You sign in with a Foursquare account.

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