WHERE, a location-based search and recommendation tool, was among the first apps in the Android Market. With a recently added feature called “Perfect Places,” WHERE wants to offer the best recommendations possible. They’ve been working at it a long time, having launched long before the iPhone changed the mobile landscape. Having developed strong relationships with carriers, WHERE has been able to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing world. Here I chat with Dan Gilmartin, Vice President of Marketing at WHERE, to learn about recent milestones and the savvy of stamina.
What’s WHERE about, and could you tell us a bit about the update, Perfect Places?
The recommendation engine we have on the consumer app is built on two algorithmic approaches, from collaborative filtering and the dimension reduction approach. That looks at the dimensions of places; what’s the price point, what type of food you like, do you need reservations, etc. We compare those places to create connections.
The third element to round-out the recommendation engine is the social filters. We allow our users to connect to Facebook, allowing them to share their favorite places. Perfect Places is the opportunity for two users to compare and come up with a local recommendation where they can meet together. Now we can look at those users’ places, compare attributes and collectively make a recommendation if they’re in the same place at the same time.
How does your recommendation system lend itself to targeted ads?
When we first picked up steam, we found that users loved the app and hated the ads. We removed them, flying blind for about three months, making no money from the app itself. They were really diminishing the user experience. So we launched our own ad server and saw higher click-through rates. We figured there were other publishers looking for a better ad network, and we count publishers like Pandora, NBC, Weather.com and the Huffington Post — about 250 applications running our ads and services.
We still really see ourselves as a media company. Local advertising is an opportunity for businesses large and small. In creating the ad network, we created a new revenue stream, but we’re extending our reach to a hyperlocal experience.
You have lots of info coming in from third parties to factor in things like weather, etc. to determine a correct ad for individual users. Is this coming from other apps or ad unit?
We get data feeds from some providers. It’s all anonymized. What that data allows us to do is look at the correlation of locations to one another. If a user checks their Accuweather app, it looks at their location, time of day, and weather. We’ll look at whatever data Accuweather can send us, and do profiling in real time.
We want to participate in the value creation of local consumer interaction. A lot of that is a consumer walking into a location, clicks to a map, clicks to call, etc. As that happens, we’re looking at ways to participate in the value creation of that connection. That could be through deals or something else, but we see the promise in mobile ads.
How did you manage the shift into the current mobile economy, having been previously reliant on carrier partnerships, whereas now you have open platform marketplaces like the Android Market?
The biggest catalyst of change was the launch of the iPhone, and more importantly, the opening of the App Store and the SDK, which included location access. Now two kids in a garage can create an app that has an easy market interface and reaches millions of users. And they didn’t have to say anything to AT&T to get that access.
Where we see ourselves today — we still maintain great relationships with carriers. We haven’t put those behind us. In fact, we’ve developed them. We’ve gone from a world where you had to work with a carrier to get an app on deck, and market adoption was good but not great. When the iPhone happened, we saw that coming and said, “Geez, that’s going to open up direct competition.”
As the transition happened, we transitioned as a business and said we were more of a developer platform before the iPhone, and we had to go straight to the consumer and build a consumer experience. With open marketplaces and platforms, you have the ability to reach out to consumers directly, instead of having to go through a carrier. But they’re still great marketers.
So is your OEM relationship now centered around marketing and working towards campaigns directed at end users?
Yes, very much so. With perspective to how we work with OEMs, a lot of that stays the same. We’re very close to all the partners, give them early access to everything we’re doing, and we always get a lot of great feedback. It’s really invaluable. It’s great for a company that wants to deliver an app to the market.