Yelp is a great way to find a reliable bar, but how’s the band tonight? Are people having fun? What’s their drink special look like?
These are the questions that Now—a free iOS app—wants to answer. Recently released in its 2.0 form, Now scours Instagram’s API for trends going on around you and assembles these trends into Instagram collages. So when you load Now, you can see the hottest events going on around you in photos, geotagged on a map. Then you simply scroll through each event’s photo collection—much like you would Instagram itself—and their locations are automatically updated on the map.
"I think people are very visual, and most discovery apps have tried their best to explain to you with a lot of text why you would love a place based on old information. Yelp reviews and Foursquare tips by strangers, a friend has been there once two weeks ago, etc.," founder Ben Cera explains. "We think that’s quite boring, frankly. That doesn’t make you want to come back again and again to it to discover new things. We think that live photos of a place (and maybe videos one day) are the key to making this discovery really fun and engaging."
Interestingly enough, Now isn’t just some algorithm-automated service. The small team actually curates the images you see, handpicking just what shots of a concert or a restaurant make it into a collection. Then they write a one-line summary of what’s going on.
"Algorithms are great for detecting stuff that humans could not do. However, they do not have this subjective eye to tell if an event is cool or not, to be smart about describing an event in a few words, picking a set of photos that all make sense together to describe best the event," Cera writes. "At Now, we love algorithms, but also really love curated content. That’s what we’re trying to do by combining the best of both worlds."
Their approach can work in delightfully unpredictable ways. In practice, Now’s curators spotted a slew of updates from Leo Burnett. There must be a corporate luncheon, I figured, but I was surprised to see the ad agency labeled "Drinking in an elevator." And viewing the images, that’s just what was going on—a rowdy, impromptu elevator party that only a human eye would catch. It’s the sort of moment that, while I couldn’t join in, proves Now’s concept wonderfully.
But generally testing Now in downtown Chicago, it honestly feels a bit more like a tourism app than an event discovery tool. I see photos from the Art Institute from two days ago and shots from the Bean from two weeks ago. Peppered in between are just a couple of other events—like a concert at the House of Blues. Leo Burnett was the crown jewel in my collection from the last few months.
I don’t blame Now for highlighting popular destinations. I get that approach, even though tourism photos won’t teach a local anything about their city. Truth be told, the bigger problem is that Now is missing the now. Because with so few updates, I can’t even see what happened in the Loop last night.
No doubt, I’m being a bit hard on the bootstrapping team of curators behind Now’s events. That said, they simply don’t have the excuse of most other social-network startups. Thanks to Instagram’s open API, Now has an unlimited pool of users in every city posting events all the time. That’s a huge advantage in a space where most fail due to lack of users. There’s a vast amount of content here to mine. Now just needs to start digging.
[Hat tip: Techcrunch]