“The best and the worst of everything” app Amen, which lets users make simple votes on straightforward statements — “amen” and “hell no” being the operative words — has now amassed one million Amens (votes) from its users, the startup has told TechCrunch. And now that it’s picking up significant amounts of crowdsourced data and traction around the best places to eat, visit and other tips, the developers are making a little more of a play on it. Today, it’s releasing that data in a new version of the app with far more discoverability. Available now on the Appstore, the “Explorer Release” now lets users browse by topics and offers more location-based features alongside it.
Felix Petersen, the co-founder of Amen, tells us that for now it’s keeping quiet on how many active users or downloads the app has had since coming out in beta back in September 2011, with backing from Ashton Kutcher and others. But that number is still shy of the golden 7-figures. “We are waiting with downloads and users to also hit the million [mark] before we announce them,” he said, noting that the amount of statements on the app that people use for their votes is also really close to one million. He adds that since Amen introduced Facebook Open Graph integration in March uptake of the app has been accelerating — another example of how linking into the social network has given an app a strong audience boost.
Among the new features, Amen is enhancing its location-aware features: when a user is in an area with data on it, those insider tips become available. New York, Tokyo, Berlin and San Francisco are the focus cities for the app at the moment, and users in those places can get updates on Amens in real time, and you can also enter in to “hell no” disputes in real time, too. A new categories button includes film recommandations, as well as tips on music, art, travel and food.
“Hitting one million Amens is a great milestone for us and shows the continuing engagement and activity of the community,” Peterson told us. “We started with a simple and fun service to post opinions but releasing that data into the wild for users’ benefit was the plan from the beginning.”
But the big challenge will be to keep the app as breezily simple as it has been from its inception, as it scales up in users and functionality to keep them coming back.
Petersen, who prior to Amen had sold another cool location service, Plazes, to Nokia, is working with a strong team of other founders who will hopefully be able to navigate that with a minimum of “hell-no”s. They are Caitlin Winner (MIT, Nokia) and Ricki Vester Gregersen (Input Squared), and Florian Weber, Twitter’s first engineer interviewed here.
The collected data approach is something that will continue to be a growing feature in the app, Petersen says, as the company continues to look at other platforms beyond its birthplace on iOS.”We are going to increasingly bring out the data to provide utility. So first we are expanding our web presence with a focus on discovery. That will come in 1-2 months. Then we will expand the footprint to Android and potentially other platforms,” he told us. Although you might think he owes some debt of gratitude to Nokia for buying his last startup, that won’t be extending to Nokia platforms necessarily any time soon, it seems. He wouldn’t comment on this but the low numbers on WP7 to date would make it hard for a small startup to justify that kind of investment for now.
He believes the Explorer Release will show the power of the structured data approach. “It reduces mental complexity of choice and is a radically different experience from overbearing recommendation sites. When you go to Lisbon you don’t want reviews for all the restaurants, you want the Top 5 and the best of the best. You want less, not more. The same goes for movies or books.”
But this is not to say that Amen is hoping to compete in the social/location/discovery of cool places category, he says: “We are not really competing in the ‘Cool Places discovery space’ per se. At the end Amen is about opinions. If you play around with the new version you will see that it’s just as good for discovering new movies, books or “yo mamma” jokes.
“But of course walking around in a city and seeing that you are just walking by ‘the best flat white in town’ is particularly compelling. It’s funny how we’ve been portrayed as adjusting our direction recently. I think we are doing exactly what we laid out from the beginning. We just had to get there.”
What’s interesting is that while there is a clear option of voting “amen” and “hell no” on different topics, the statements that get created by users for people to vote on tend to coalesce around one idea: the best. And that gives Amen an interesting angle in the whole discovery space: people will gravitate to it not to find out lots of different options, but a few good ones — something that people lost in a sea of long tail may find a relief.
Petersen says that this new release is just a first step in that direction. “We will release something in two months that will blow people’s minds.” He also says that it’s going to be incorporating a web interface as well.
What’s left after that? Dare I say it, but where’s the money? Once more “best” data is assembled you can see where this will go: there can be a backend listening area of brands looking at how they are faring, but there will also be paid placements in rankings and other forms of advertising.