Social networking software

Shaker Wins TechCrunch Disrupt Start-Up Contest

Shaker, a game that turns Facebook into a "virtual bar," shook things up by winning the TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2011 start-up contest.

Shaker beat out seven finalists including Bitcasa (which promises to bring you unlimited cloud storage for just $10/month).

Shaker in a nutshell

Shaker is a social game played via the Facebook platform. But it's not your average FarmVille. Instead of cultivating virtual crops or shooting virtual Mafiosi, Shaker turns Facebook into a "virtual bar" where you can meet and interact with new people.

The game can be thought of as a mix of Facebook (because, after all, it has all of your profile info from Facebook) and those virtual, avatar-based chat rooms such as The Palace or Second Life. The experience is cool, not just because you get to meet other people, but because most of the Facebook games I’ve played are dismally empty thanks to my severe lack of friends who want to make farms. Shaker also shows you what you have in common with other people, based on your public profile information (such as birthdays, interests, and hometowns).

Shaker really tries to replicate the bar scene, right down to a "Shaker Mobile" smartphone that lets you invite friends to the event, look up information about who's in the bar, and play a Snake-like mobile game called Snaker.

Shake things up

Shaker is currently in "exclusive private beta," which is, at the moment, still open. (You can sign up for it here.)

Getting started is quick and simple. After you allow Shaker to access your Facebook profile and information, you can get started right away after choosing your sharing level. There are three different sharing levels -- "Shy," which shows just your basic info and profile pics; "Normal," which shows the "Shy" info, as well as tagged photos; and "Friendly," which shows the "Normal" info, as well as all of your photo albums.

Once you've chosen a sharing level (and connected your Twitter account, if you so choose), you'll be thrust into the virtual bar culture of Shaker. You appear as a generic avatar, but your Facebook profile picture appears in a speech bubble above your head. This way, people can hit on you, start conversations, and otherwise interact – staples of the bar scene. If you want to talk to someone, just click on their avatar and you'll end up with a list of options: View Profile, Invite to chat, Join chat, Private Message, Buy Drink, and Block.

To move around the virtual bar, just click anywhere in the room and your avatar will move to that area. If you're currently in a chat with someone, moving away from them will mean leaving the chat -- just like in a real bar. You can also click on furniture to sit down or jump up and dance on a bar or table.

Your avatar also has a few options, such as "Shake it." Clicking on this will cause your avatar to shake back and forth in some imitation of bar dancing.

I have to hand it to Shaker, it is more like a real bar than any other virtual chat room I've been in. Not only do you have to be standing near someone in order to talk to them, you can also randomly join in conversations if you walk up to two people who are already talking. Also, the basic interface, though simple, looks like a bar or club, with music playing in the background (the song name and artist scroll in a box above the window).

Disruption

Shaker, which has already raised $3 million in funding, seems like it could be an interesting twist to social gaming. And, it's definitely making waves; when I checked it out last, there were more than 80 people in the bar and it was getting a little crowded. Perhaps the next step will be virtual bouncers and lines.

Other notable start-ups in the TechCrunch Disrupt contest include runner-up Prism Skylabs (a cloud-based video service that brings physical spaces, such as offices, online via video) and audience choice winner Vocre (a translation app that uses the iPhone's accelerometer for controls).

Follow Sarah on Twitter (@geeklil) or on Facebook

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