Sometimes products are easy to sum up in single sentences, sometimes they are most definitely not. Whrrl, a new site by Pelago, is one of those that eludes definition. Hence, Pelago’s need to describe it unhelpfully as “a seamlessly integrated Web and mobile experience that is social, useful, and fun” (I admit, my headline’s not that much better).
Let’s start with the fundamentals and go from there. Whrrl is at heart a social network, as are many websites we see these days. But it’s a social network with a purpose (or, several related purposes, as we shall see). Members primarily use Whrrl to share their opinions and knowledge about local outfits, such as restaurants, bars, retail stores, and hotels. In the spirit of Yelp, users can find basic information about establishments and then, more importantly, share reviews of them (with brief descriptions and a star rating system). You can also write simple notes that correspond with particular locations, notes you can choose to share with all Whrrl members or just your friends.
Whrrl is also a mapping service of all the establishments that can be reviewed. After signing up for the site, half your screen will be dedicated to an interactive map provided by Google on top of which Pelago has dropped identifiers for your local establishments. Scan the map to find local outfits and click on their dots to pull up reviews and basic information about them. If a certain store or restaurant has been reviewed favorably or unfavorably overall, its dot on the map will indicate that fact. Opt to see indicators for establishments that have only been reviewed by your friends, or choose to view the map aggregating everyone’s contributions.
If you don’t want to find establishments using a map, you can use the Whrrl Sifter tool to perform a keyword search and then specify criteria (e.g, cheap, open now, baked goods, within 5 miles). No matter how you explore local destinations, Whrrl is intended primarily to help you share your experiences with friends. If you click on someone’s name anywhere that it is referenced, you’ll be shown on the map some of the places they have reviewed or rated.
Whrrl is also a mobile application for two main reasons: Pelago provides a full-featured version of the site for mobile devices, and soon you will be able to track your friends via GPS (if they let you). While most of the reviewing will take place on a computer (since many people don’t have mobile devices that make typing easy) you can access the site’s reviews on a map using your handheld. This makes it easier to figure out where to eat when you’re already out on the town. You can also post images and receive alerts about your friends activities from your phone. If your friend rates a place nearby, you can bookmark it for later.
As for the GPS, Whrll will be competing with other tracking services like Loopt to provide a way for your friends to find out where you are currently located. If you install the software on your phone and choose to share your location with friends on a white list, they will be able to see you real time on Whrrl’s map. Pelago says they have been working on a patented probablistic model to ensure that people’s locations are reported accurately. The system will report the actual establishments your friends are at, so you don’t even need to look at a map. The GPS functionality is all optional of course, and if you turn it on, the software on your phone will even ask you from time to time whether you still want it on. This is to prevent someone from tracking you without your knowledge.
As for the future of Whrrl, the company is adding more support for events. Currently you can use the system to tell your friends when you’ll be at a certain location. In the future, there will be more information in Whrrl associated with events (you’ll be able to add reviews of them, for instance). Pelago is also working on more ways to get information into the system. They contracted out to a team in the Philippines to manually collect all of the basic information about food and drink establishments currently in Whrrl. In the future, they will collect more information about non-restaurant establishments and eventually will turn the system into a wiki of sorts so users can edit most everything.
Pelago raised $7.4 million last November from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Trilogy Equity Partners. They are currently running a promotion campaign with American Eagle to get the word out to Whrrl’s target demographic, 18 to late 20 year olds. Robert Scoble recently recorded an interview with Pelago CEO Jeff Holden.