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Socialtopias - The Charlotte Startup Taking On Social Media Heavyweights

Courtesy of Socialtopias

When you think of social networking names like Twitter and Facebook come to mind. On December 31st, a small Charlotte company will take on those multi-billion dollar behemoths.

The company is called Socialtopias. And its office at the Charlotte Venture Center on South Church Street holds all the white boards and the small conference table you’d expect from a startup, but with a Charlotte twist. A large window is coated with a plastic-pixilated rendering of the Charlotte's skyline.

That was part of the backdrop as company executives announced the free app and website was ready to go live. Martin Miller is the Director of Operations for Socialtopias.

"Rather than be tethered to a computer, we want people to go out and be social in real life," he says. 

Credit Tom Bullock/WFAE News
Pixilated rendering of the Charlotte skyline at the Socialtopias headquarters.

That, they say, is the problem with other social media sites, where users are tethered to sites while they ‘like’ and retweet away. Other sites inherently focus on what has happened.

Socialtopias , says Miller, is focused on what is about to happen. This is a social network that is focused on actually being social, like getting friends together to go out on the town.

"What we want you to think is chat, plan, meet," Miller says.

That is also a good roadmap to how the app is structured.

There’s a column on the right of the site to help you chat and plan. Miller refers to it as the site's verson of a newsfeed.

It’s a morphed version of what you might find on Facebook.

So instead of baby photos and stuff like that that you may find on other sites, this is what’s going on. Where are my friends at? I can post texts to this," explains Ward Thompson, the lead counsel and creative strategist for Socialtopias.

And you can pick which of your friends are in that feed – and which are not.

You can also group friends to form different "entourages." There are planning functions that let you set the time and date to meet up. But the centerpiece of Socialtopias is a map with different businesses. Users can use those to say "I’m here" or "I’m going here."

"And the more people that say 'I’m here,' the bigger that circle grows," Thompson says.

And businesses can entice users to show up by offering discounts and other deals. They’ve even partnered with the ride-sharing company Uber, so you can hail a car straight from the Socialtopias site.

The more you use it, the more the program gets to know you. It will make suggestions for places to go and things to do.

Credit Tom Bullock/WFAE News
Ward Thompson (left), Joshua Lineberger (center) and Martin Miller (right) at the Socialtopias launch.

As for privacy, the company says users can choose to go ‘incognito’ for a night, or mark their information private in perpetuity.

Now if you’re already a user of social websites a lot of these features may sound familiar. A combination of those found on Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon and others, as well as Uber itself.

That’s kind of the point, says Joshua Lineberger, the creator of the site.

"It’s the evolution and adaptation of what those accomplish and the tools that are actually available on all those aggregated into one, one-stop shop."

Socialtopias currently has about 30 employees. Lineberger says he raised $4.3 million to build and launch the site by going to family and friends. That includes an angel investor put in $4 million.

The company plans to earn money by charging businesses to offer those discounts and deals to more and more users. And how many Socialtopians does Lineberger hope for initially?

Credit Courtesy of Socialtopias
Joshua Lineberger is the creator and founder of Socialtopias.

"I would like to hit 500,000 within the first year."

Hitting that number may mean Lineberger makes another goal. He hopes companies like Socialtopias can transform Charlotte into the Silicon Valley of the South.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.