These days I found myself lost in Thomas Hardy’s opening poem by Thomas Gray (thank you Wikipedia).

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

The poem is a bittersweet lament at the new industrial world invading the pastoral setting of England.

Here’s a look at some of the popular apps that rely on the crowd, and your proximity to a crowd. For the most part, they’re designed to facilitate human encounters in the cyborgian world of mobile apps.

When You Meet a Stranger

Yobongo is a chat room that launched to help people chat with those nearby.  Recently they were acquired by Mixbook – a company that creates customized photo books. One can now expect to see photo books go mobile.  Now does someone a few seats down from you on the subway care to share your photo book?  Who knows?

Another “meet a stranger” site that’s taking Sxsw by storm is Highlight . If someone around you is also a Highlight user, then their profile show up on your phone. You can see their name, their photos, friends, and interests. Think Facebook with promise of meeting new friends with shared interest within close proximity.  Fascinating, yes? Highlight is available for free in the iPhone App Store.

Another darling at SXSW is Glancee, an app that combines your location with the likes and dislikes of other smartphone users nearby.  It’s avaialbe for iOS, Android and on Facebook.

Similarly EchoEcho supports all smartphones and will let you share your location with anyone in any of your address books.

Visual Group Think

Echoer is currently available in Canada, but will be available on iOS in the US soon.  Think “thought bubbles”. Now imagine that the bubble that’s got the most “followers” is biggest.  That’s the simple idea behind the very visual Echoer.  Ideas that are most worthwhile are echoed the loudest — that could be anything from thoughts shared during a political debate, to a great burger deal in town, to the way to a party you’re just finding out about.

Finding the Best Venues

CrowdCloud focuses on real-time information for local venues: restaurants, merchants, mass transit systems and other community events. The iPhone app is offered free to users. The company is working with partners to provide special perks and deals. Share your best restaurant tips or even let friends know you’re at your fav venue.

Business Focus

Mingle is a social app for the professional crowd — kind of the LinkedIn of ambient crowd sourcing apps.  Looking for a researcher at a conference?  It’s the way to go.  I looked at NYC which was pretty thin on professionals but I could have my pick of restaurateurs’ to mingle with .

Going Somewhere?

Pick upPal is a social network rideshare service that connects drivers and passengers everywhere. Use PickupPal to find or give a ride to work this morning, go to a conference tomorrow and get to a concert on the weekend. PickUpPal is available for the iPhone.  Try Piggyback for the Android.

What PickUp Pal does for car travel, Zamp does for air travel.  It’ll let you find  other nearby travelers, find friends or soon-to-be friends on your flight.. Zamp can even get you access to travel lounges and special affinity points.