It’s funny how the news hits, sometimes. Just this morning, one social travel service (Gtrot) made the decision to shift away from the travel vertical to focus on local discovery, while another, Jetpac, is going all in.
Jetpac’s newly launched iPad application, already sitting at #1 in the “New Travel App” section of the iPad App Store, aims to do what Gtrot once tried to: inspire you to take a vacation. Using the app, you can discover and share places you like and want to go, as well as mark the places you’ve been.
Again, as with Gtrot, Trippy, and others, the focus is on visual inspiration, more so than utility. But where others mimic the image pinboard style for browsing photos, Jetpac brings its photo inspirations to the touch-friendly, lean-back experience of the iPad.
Explains Jetpac founder and CEO Julian Green, “it’s a more visual and inspirational experience of social travel. Using Jetpac, you can create your bucket list of places you want to go next, as well as places you’ve been, and photos you love,” he says. “Jetpac basically makes Facebook useful for travel.”
While there are seemingly tons of social travel apps in the space (see this article for a relatively current analysis of today’s lineup, save for Gowalla), Jetpac’s idea to build on top of Facebook makes sense, especially because it mirrors your natural, offline behavior when trip planning – that is, you ask a friend who’s been there what to do.
That alone doesn’t make it unique, however – startups like Disrupt finalist Trippy and social travel planner Gogobot (disclosure: CrunchFund’ed) are also tied into the social networking behemoth to improve their usefulness.
“We take all the un-located photos on Facebook (most of the 100 billion are un-located),” explains Green, “and locate them using geo-parsing technology we’ve pioneered, using the text – captions, album names, etc.”
So, for example, even if not geo-tagged, Jetpac knows that your album called “Vegas 2011″ contains photos from Las Vegas. Nifty!
Jetpac also automatically selects the best travel photos. To do so, the team first started by rating some 2 million of the photos manually, which then allowed them to train algorithms to look for the signals that correlate to good travel photos. Green says they learned that some words predict with 97% accuracy that you don’t want to look at certain photos for travel – words like “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “reunion,” and “graduation,” for instance, tell Jetpac’s algorithms there’s “nothing to see here.”
“The result is beautiful and inspiring,” says Green. “We’ve worked out to pan for photographic gold on Facebook.”
While most founders tend to speak highly of their products, with the actual results ending up a little less appealing, Jetpac was really enjoyable to use. The app itself is very simple. It loads photos, you swipe through them. If you want to mark the photo in some way, tap once on it to “love” it, mark “been there,” or save it as a place you “want to go.”
Even though I keep my Facebook social graph relatively small (at least compared with Twitter), Jetpac still discovered 10,000 photos from my friends. If your friends aren’t as prolific (or just take bad photos), you can also use the app to browse the “hot 100″ cities instead.
Green says that on average, users have 400 friends, with 500 photos each, totaling 200,000 on average. Jetpac locates around a quarter of those, then prioritizes the best for use in the app.
There are still some photos the algorithm picks up which aren’t great, however, at least in terms of beauty – conferences, for example, are really hard, says Green, as are triathlons. In the coming months, the app will include a function that will crowdsource training the algorithm further, by allowing users to mark those photos they don’t like to address this problem.
In the nearer future, the company plans to source photos from Google+, Flickr and Instagram.
Jetpac, currently a team of five, was founded by Green, plus early Yahoo’er Derek Dukes and big data and geo technologist Pete Warden. The company is angel funded by some folks in the Valley, but is not currently disclosing details about how much or who’s in.
You can download Jetpac for iPad (free) here.