Up until this point, since the launch of version 2 of its iPhone app earlier this year, Whrrl’s focus has been on storytelling. That is, allowing users to tag places they’re at with stories and pictures. But the latest version shifts the focus towards creating a digital record of all the places you go in the real world, Pelago CEO Jeff Holden tells us. “It’s about places, not location,” he says.
While the distinction between the two may not be that obvious at first, it becomes more clear when Holden continues to talk about how the core idea of Whrrl is discovery. That is to say, it’s not about playing a game, or knowing where your friends are at any given time (which rivals Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt are all about), instead it’s about building up communities and location data surrounding places. And that leads to another major addition for the site, with “Societies.” Basically, this is a feature that looks at where you go in the real world and serves up other places you might like to “discover” based on other Whrrl users who are members of similar Societies as you.
For example, maybe you’re an indie music lover. Checking into different record shops around a city would make you a member of this society, and this opens other social discovery pathways, Holden says. And when you keep going to the same place, you become a “regular,” a concept that should be familiar to users of Foursquare with “mayors” — only there can be many regulars.
The new Whrrl also features fun facts about each place you visit. You can see, for example, how many times you’ve been there, and how many times your friends have been there. “An important part of who you are is expressed in the places you visit,” Holden says. And all of this information will reside on a completely revamped website launching today as well.
Pelago was actually one of the first companies funded by Kleiner Perkin’s iFund just prior to the launch of Apple’s App Store in 2008. But despite the big time deal, the service has seen rivals, first Loopt, then Foursquare and Gowalla, steal much of the spotlight. And that’s why Holden is trying to position themselves a bit differently. Whether that will work or not, remains to be seen.
The company also has plans to make money. Naturally, with all this footstreaming data, they can do things with local advertising — “pay-per-visit” advertising, as Holden calls it. There are also opportunities within individual places. Holden notes that they already have one deal to allow a shopping marketer to tailor an experience for someone inside of a store from within Whrrl.
And despite the iFund investment, Pelago plans to expand Whrrl beyond the iPhone. Already, there is a mobile web version that works on many phones, like the BlackBerry. And eventually the plan to build native apps for other mobile platforms as well.
Looking ahead, Holden thinks the next major release of Whrrl is already just a few months away. At that time, “the full iceberg will be revealed.” By that he means the full discovery experience for users. If they can get enough people using their new iPhone app — which looks quite nice and is fast — perhaps they can deliver on that.