Jeff Holden is the founder and CEO of Pelago, the company behind the Whrrl social media network. Pelago is at the nexus of two of the hottest topics in social media – geolocation and location-based applications. Social Times asked Holden about Whrrl, how it compares with its competitors and what might be coming up next.
The list of mobile location-based social networks has grown. How does Pelago see Whrrl’s place in the location-based universe?
Whrrl has a very clear focus, which is getting people out into the world trying new things. We’re fundamentally changing the way people explore and experience their cities. And the feature set and experience of Whrrl is very different from other products in this space as a result.
People choose Whrrl over other products – and we get this feedback all the time – because it actually delivers on discovery with unprecedented relevance, and that’s rooted in Whrrl’s unique Society model. Now, with the introduction of Society Rewards, we’re providing a very strong economic incentive for people to use Whrrl as well.
Whrrl Societies are passion groups for the real world. Whether you’re a foodie, an antiquer, a mountain biker, a margarita-lover or a mom trying to entertain her kids, there’s a Society for that. People opt into the Societies that fit their lifestyles, and once in, they inspire each other to try new experiences through recommendations and photos/notes that capture their real-world experiences. Societies in combination with our novel “influence loop” and rich media experience sharing are the formula that unlocks serendipitous discovery.
There’s also a unique game dynamic to Whrrl that we refer to as the “influence loop.” In Whrrl, when you make a recommendation or share an experience (through photos and notes) that inspires someone else, you get points. When you get points, you level up in your Societies, which builds your social capital in Whrrl; plus, you unlock special powers (like the ability to reward other Society members) and you increase the odds of winning Society Rewards.
Society Rewards, Whrrl’s social loyalty program designed to reward word of mouth and physical-world visits, enables brands and local merchants to create their own Societies and offer prizes to members for checking in at specific places. This model is unique for several reasons:
- Check-ins are just the activation point; what is being rewarded is the combination of the visit and word of mouth to drive other people’s visits.
- The highest-level members have the best odds of winning, so the program is structured to most reward those who are the most influential in the Society, which is obviously very attractive to merchants and brands. It’s worth pointing out that influence in Whrrl Societies is a positive concept. In Whrrl, users inspire each other via recommendations. Recommendations are not reviews – they are only created to tell someone else “try this” – and the influence loop assures that the best and most compelling recommendations are most likely to be seen.
- Real-world activation. Because the rewards are chance-based, they tend to be substantial – e.g. our partner Murphy USA offered $50 in free gasoline as a reward to their Society members – and as a result, they are more likely to drive real-world action.
- Societies are communities, not badges. Societies are designed to help you discover the world around you with unprecedented relevance. Who better to give you recommendations than others who share the same interests. From the merchant and brand perspective, this is simply what they want from social media.
- Brands within stores, not just merchants and retailers, can have Societies and therefore enjoy all of these benefits.
Twitter has launched its geolocation functionality and Facebook’s is imminent. How does Pelago see Whrrl “interleaving” with the platforms of these established and (so far) non-competing social networking giants?
We’re big believers in integrating deeply with Twitter and Facebook, as the product shows today, and we’re excited about the platform advances in the area of geolocation, particularly around places. In short, we’re going to see some changes in the competitive landscape. Certain vertical use cases, e.g. place-based friend finding, will fundamentally shift to the platform provider. Other use cases will be better enabled through the broader availability of aggregate check-in data, e.g. personalized discovery. Whrrl’s focus on discovery is very complementary to what the platforms providers will offer and I think actually accelerates in their presence.
Do you have a good crystal ball that shows what advances in geolocation and location-based applications will offer users as new benefits, features and ways of participating in their social networks?
It turns out that I do have a very nice crystal ball sitting right here. Seriously, my read is that we’re transitioning right now from the era of the unstructured status update to the era of the structured status update. Instead of typing into a status text box “I’m at Cinerama watching Inception,” I’ll check into Cinerama and Inception. Because this is structured data, it is subject to analysis. Social data hangs off of a single “Cinerama” object instead of a zillion slightly different strings with the word Cinerama in them. You can compute “people who go to Cinerama also go to…” You can associate semantic information with these objects, like “Cinerama is a movie theater.” This structured data provides context; if I know a person is at the Cinerama movie theater or inside a Walmart, I can activate certain experiences specific to that place. It’s the web of the physical world where your phone can reveal great experiences for you to have and dramatically enhance your experiences in the moment.