Facebook-based social travel apps may have run their course. Jetpac, a gorgeous but ultimately slow-to-grow travel app for iPad, which last year raised $2.4 million in Series A funding, is shifting its focus today with the launch of its new Jetpac City Guides for iPhone. These visual guides cover millions of venues in 5,000 cities worldwide, but in a different way than you might expect: by analyzing Instagram photos.
Social travel apps were growing in popularity when Jetpac first launched, with a number of competitors like Trippy and social travel planner Gogobot also tied to Facebook’s social network to improve their usefulness. The space was buzzy. These days? Not so much.
At the core of Jetpac’s earlier product, which relied on friends’ shared Facebook photos, were image processing capabilities that allowed the app to automatically understand where images were taken, even when they weren’t geo-tagged. The company then curated all the photos from any given travel destination, and showed you just the top 10% in terms of quality.
Likewise, Jetpac’s new Instagram-based City Guides also lean on the company’s image analysis algorithms. The system looks for faces in the photos, determines if they’re happy or sad, makes style judgements (mustache? could be a hipster! lipstick? people get dressed up to visit here!), and more. Jetpac also determines if a shot is outdoors or indoors, if there are plates or cups in view, and makes a call about the image’s overall quality.
The end result are clever mini-guides like “bars women love,” “coffee shot spots,” “happiest places in town,” “hipster hangouts,” and others, as well as more traditional lists like “galleries and museums,” “places to stay,” or just “restaurants,” for example.
There are billions of Instagram photos to pull from these days, and the highly visual format makes sense for a generation which is more interested in communication via photos, rather than status updates or lengthy text. Coupled with the photos is basic venue info, like name, location, phone number and map. And instead of user reviews, the app tells you about “who goes there” – like “wine lovers,” “dog people,” “outdoorsmen,” “students,” etc.
Farewell To Facebook, Hello To Instagram
While the company’s original vision was to give people better travel recommendations and visual inspiration, which the iPad app achieves through trusted friends’ recommendations via their shared travel photos, that didn’t really pan out, explains Jetpac CEO Julian Green.
“What we learned from the iPad app, is that your friends’ haven’t been everywhere, and people want specific venue recommendations rather than just which friend has been to a city, and their photos,” he admits. With the ability to process the public Instagram photos from around the world, Jetpac’s guides can offer users more recommendations than before.
“You can now search for places to go to in the way that you naturally visualize it, rather than reading through an amenities list or parsing text reviews,” says Green. “People use it to quickly get a sense of a place and the people who go there – photos don’t lie,” he adds.
Going forward, the plan is to build out the social functions in the app, so you can layer on places your friends are into over top the wisdom of the crowds aspect. To some extent, there are similarities here with Foursquare, which leveraged check-in data to point you to places your friends visit, and the photos shot there. But instead of relying the check-in, which is seeing declining user interest forcing Foursquare to prompt users to provide data in other ways, Jetpac is taking advantage of an activity which users are doing anyway — taking Instagram photos.
That being said, while the guides may be good for a quick visual take on popular spots, lacking user or critics’ reviews limits their practicality for serious vacation planners who would want more detailed data about a venue, including pricing, recommendations, overall ambience, quality of service, travel times to key areas (like the city center, or the airport), and more.
Instead, the guides come across as less of a way to plan a trip, and more of a way to explore your own backyard.
The Facebook-based Jetpac iPad app is not going away immediately, Green says, but it will no longer be the focus. The app drew in only hundreds of thousands of App Store downloads, not millions, we’re told. Eventually, it, too, will be transitioned over to this new experience…well, assuming Jetpac is able to raise a new round, which Green says the company needs to do next year.
Jetpac’s City Guides are here.