Earlier, I pointed out an emerging recent trend in apps: community-assisted recommendations. Recently, I got a chance to talk with the CEO behind one of these apps. Crowdbeacon (link opens iTunes) is a free iPhone (s aapl) application currently available through the App Store that provides location-based recommendations and answers to questions sourced by the app’s user community.
Crowdbeacon works by allowing users to ask questions about specific services, businesses and locations in their area, and then seeking answers to those questions from other users and businesses using Crowdbeacon, and from other services. It also lets you answer questions in your vicinity, and includes a gamification element to promote user interest through leaderboards.
In my previous article, I mentioned Locamind, a web-app currently in beta which offers similar functionality. Aside from being iPhone-only for the moment, Crowdbeacon also offers some interesting additional differentiating features, like the ability to narrow your query results by category, and tie-ins with other services like Foursquare and Yelp to help augment the number of potential sources of information a user can access. Right now, the UI could use a little more polish, but in major metropolitan areas, it does what it claims to, providing answers to questions that are thoughtful and timely from others using the app via push notifications.
Here’s what Crowdbeacon CEO Rob Boyle had to say about his app, their plans for future releases, the iOS platform, and the future of community-assisted apps in general:
Rob Boyle: We might be biased, but our perspective is that the future for community-assisted apps is bright. As smart phone adoption increases and the consumer-web evolves to become more custom and data-driven, being able to plug into existing communities for advice and perspective provides a practical benefit that just flat-out wasn’t possible 24 months ago. And we’re excited about the potential that this type of interaction provides as both a business and as people who benefit on a daily basis from being able to plug into these communities.
TAB: What does Crowdbeacon ultimately hope to accomplish, for its users and as a business?
RB: We started Crowdbeacon with one (simple) goal in mind: to create a location-based app that wasn’t a game or a check-in service (which Foursquare so successful commoditized), but one that actually helped regular people and local businesses alike. And ultimately if our platform can accomplish this feat — which only user adoption and validation will show — we will be thrilled. As a business, we would be very happy creating a brand with long-term equity, that helps establish location-based communication as an important part of commerce and daily life. And no one is ever against a successful exit, so there’s that too.
TAB: Why iPhone for launch? Any plans to expand to other platforms?
RB: As any bootstrapped startup, we had to make the hard choice of which platform to start building with since we didn’t have a million dollars and institutional funding… and we ultimately chose the iPhone for a bunch of reasons. Most important though was the fact that when we started development we felt that the iPhone SDK was the most mature (this was just after the iOS4 was released) OS on the market… and our CTO Luca Columbu was excited about the possibility of building an iPhone app. That said, we are working this very moment on our Android app, which we hope we can release in the next 3-4 weeks, which will be followed by a Blackberry app after that. And we’re really excited about these platforms as well.
RB: When we started development of Crowdbeacon, the iOS may have had an advantage but in reality I think that now all of the major players have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to community-assisted app development. For us personally, we like the device standardization that the iOS brings with it, but since we haven’t finished building Crowdbeacon for Android I can’t truly compare so I probably shouldn’t try — lest I inflame Android developers everywhere.
TAB: How are you currently funded and what are your plans for future funding?
RB: We are proud to say that we are a fully-bootstrapped startup that was incubated, designed and built entirely by myself and the team at Squeaky Wheel Media. That said, we have been meeting with VCs on both coasts for the past 6 months to determine who we like (and who likes us) so that when the time came for us to raise our Series A — which will be soon — we were prepared. And we’ve got some great firms who are interested so that’s very exciting from our perspective.
Right now, Crowdbeacon is in a good place on the cusp of an emerging trend, but I expect the field to get a lot more crowded in the near future. A lot of people already use Twitter to solicit these kinds of recommendations, but the service isn’t geared toward providing them specifically. Will we see ever a major player with a focused, hyper-local mobile Q&A service? Probably, since it seems a natural extension of existing ones like Google Places (s goog), but for now the startups are free to lead the way.
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