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One of the most interesting mobile apps to come out of the Occupy Wall Street protests was Vibe, created by Hazem Sayed, which allowed users to send anonymous messages in a tightly controlled distance. Betaworks recently bought the company, and today it is releasing version 1.5, with some new features it will be highlighting at SXSW this month.

Betaworks founder and CEO John Borthwick wrote to VentureBeat to explain his interest in Vibe, and what he thinks lies ahead. “As political, economic, and social tides continue to shift we hope the use of technology enables any kind of social movement to collaborate without hierarchies.” he told us by e-mail.

The most interesting aspect of the new release is the double hash tag (##) which has the opposite effect from Twitter’s famous trend hashtag. “What is the Double Hashtag? Think group direct messaging. Hashtags allow you to tag your messages to create more visibility. Get the word out to more people. The double hashtag is designed to pull your conversation out of the regular stream, making it invisible to the people who don’t know the double hashtag,” writes Borthwick.

The other interesting aspect of Vibe is that users can set the radius for their message. You can send out a public message, like a Tweet, or restrict it only to those within a mile, or even 160 feet. This becomes crucial when protesters are trying to organize but want to avoid surveillance by police. Vibe is also hoping there will be some less serious applications of this tech at SXSW, such as:

  • Share pseudonymous comments during talks and events. Say what your social graph might not want to hear.
  • Find out about spontaneous events and parties as they happen with Geolocation.
  • Share experiences with the local crowd without knowing them or following them on Twitter or Facebook.

We once attended a Digital Wesleyan panel where Borthwick was asked what keeps him up at night, and he responded that the collision of real-time networks and government surveillance was something that often weighed on his mind. Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson has also talked about a desire to invest in the coming cultural revolution, after witnessing the role social media played in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.

Vibe, a mobile app born at a protest, seems like the first of that new breed of startup. You can check out the Vibe website here and download it from the iTunes store here.

Image via Adrianne Jeffries: Vibe in action at #OWS

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