While we wait for the full-throttle effect of Apple Maps in iOS6, a new app has launched today that is raising the game for what we should be expecting out of the world of social-mobile-local services. Recce — pronounced “wreckie”, British slang for “reconnaissance” (only English people would make slang out of a word like that) — presents a 3D, animated bird’s eye view of a city, and what is going on in it, by aggregating dozens of data feeds from other services — ranging from mapping providers to those building listings of places to eat, and social networks like Twitter, integrating it all, and then presenting it in a slick, attractive app that is essentially a searchable map. (Think of Recce as the pretty face of big data.) And it’s launching with some strong support: NEA is the lead investor in a $4 million Series A round in Recce’s developers, London-based eeGeo, with total funding for the company now at $4.7 million including a seed investment from Initial Capital, Swordfish Investments, and others.
In its earliest iteration, Recce is only providing maps and data for central London, with San Francisco and New York next in line, but its developers are thinking big. The intention is to extend out to many more cities over the coming months. And, significantly, to do more besides maps: Recce is also building itself out to be a platform not only for all location-based services but also location-specific games.
Does all of that sound too ambitious? Not if you know a bit more about the people behind the venture. Besides heavy-hitting backers like NEA, Recce is coming to market with an impressive amount of experience behind it: the founders are Ian Hetherington, formerly MD for Sony PlayStation (now CEO of eeGeo), and Rian Liebenberg, formerly the engineering director for Google (now COO).
Liebenberg only left Google in September 2011, to join Hetherington in what he fondly calls “scrappy startup life.” But he’s no slouch: when at Google not only did he help build up the company’s entire R&D operation, but he was one of the main people behind the creation of Google Hangouts. “It was my baby,” he told me.
The idea for Recce — which by the way was originally supposed to be called Mapply, until a French company called Mappy called to say “Non!” — came out of what Liebenberg says was an awareness of all the interesting applications out there that are location-based but the challenge of how to use them collectively to their best advantage.
“It’s a problem of discovery,” he says simply. And if you have had to toggle between a number of apps on your phone to figure out the best place to get an ice cream or whatever else in a city you don’t know very well, you probably know what he’s talking about. One app may have the most comprehensive listings, but they’re out of date. Another has outdated user reviews. Another has live reviews but lacks breadth or a link to a decent navigation map. And that’s before looking at some of the more practical uses of a city app: looking for train times or bus arrivals, for example. Recce’s listings and map become like the merged version of all of these. You can use it to find things to do and services near you, bookmark them for future, find your way to them, and tell other people about them.
The app works in real time, but it also has an offline mode, which stores the latest update on your tablet or smartphone. In a handy tweak, Recce will tell you how many minutes since it was last updated — useful for time-sensitive listings like transportation or cinema information.
There are other features on Recce that make it an engaging and exciting product to use. There is the quick and fun process of navigating your way around a city — using your finger you can zoom in and out of locations, and walk around buildings, and collapse them if there are too many in your way to get a good perspective — features that may really come into their own in Recce’s games-platform strategy.
And the fact that you can use it as a client to update sites like Twitter gives it currency beyond just using it as a way mine existing data; it becomes a data generator in its own right. It seems to provide a potentially neat complement to what Twitter, for example, is doing in fact with its advertising push: the fact that every tweet from Recce is location-specific could make it an attractive platform for Twitter advertising focused on specific locations.
As for that ad part… this is probably where the company will be looking for its first revenues since Recce is launching totally free to use. The ads will likely come in the form of badges and promotions for particular locations on the map — for example Starbucks putting in its own branded badges on its city locations. The company has already spoken to a number of major brands about getting involved in this way, although Liebenberg says that this is not an area that Recce is pursuing for now. The goal, he says, is to keep building up its maps and user base, making Recce a richer place to live.