WAYN heralds the new wave of location

With the news that Wayn.com has secured $11 million from British VC fund Esprit Capital Partners to fuel its expansion, it appears “location” is the new wave in social in networking. We’ve seen it invade the verticals of music (MySpace), eateries (Yelp) and shopping (Crowdstorm). Now, where you are and who you are is as important as what you like.

They will also be looking at new revenue streams (ticketing surely, and beefing up the subscription model?), other markets, trip planning and rich media (YouTube meets TripAdvisor?) .

WAYN allows users to create profiles, search for other travellers near them and make real-world friends, as well as informing family where they are. Membership has grown from 45,000 users in March 2005 to seven million today, and is increasing by up to 35,000 new members per day according to the company.

Like a lot of Brit-start-ups the Eastern European aspect is never far off. Part of the funding will be used to expand its development team in Poland.

Given that Brent Hoberman will join WAYN’s board as chairman in January 2007, a link with Lastminute.com seems logical (travel packages + friends, new and old?). Stuart Chapman, partner at Esprit Capital Partners, also joins the board. The funding also includes a group of angel investors including Adrian Critchlow and Andy Phillipps, co-founders of Active Hotels, David Soskin, chief executive, and Hugo Burge, vice chairman, of Cheapflights and Constant Tedder, co-founder and managing director of Jagex, which runs RuneScape, the online multiplayer game.

Although Wayn’s membership cover 220 different countries, it is mostly known in the ‘gap year’ countries of UK, Australia and Europe and has little presence in the US. That should change with the new funding for marketing. And looking at Alexa it is the only UK-based social media travel site to come even close to TripAdvisor.

Wayn has also had criticism because of the way it encourages people to add contacts from Hotmail, Gmail etc. although the company has said it is now easier to opt out of these.

So if location is the new wave, where does that leave “location-oriented” started-ups like TrustedPlaces.com, TravelHiker.com and BuddyPing.com? It may mean that other startus in the space either attract new funding, or perhaps will change their business model to get some of the “WAYN-effect”.