I’m a huge fan of the lazy-web. Why Google (s goog) something myself, for instance, and spend time parsing the information when I can go to my network of human contacts for a pre-sifted answer? That’s the idea behind a new crop of community-assisted recommendation/Q&A apps that have appeared on the web and on mobile platforms. One entrant, Localmind, whose iPhone (s aapl) app is nearing launch, really shows off the promise of this new app category.
I talked briefly about Localmind in my article discussing the general trend of crowdsourced opinion apps last month, but at the time, it was a web-only beta. Recently, developers started testing an iPhone version of the app, bringing mobile functionality to the service.
Localmind works much like Crowdbeacon, an app I covered in an earlier article. Basically, you can ask questions of other Localmind users around you about specific locations, and receive answers from real human beings at the locations in question. So, for example, I can ask if there’s already a line forming at the Apple Store in anticipation of an iPad 2 announcement tomorrow, and someone actually standing in that particular line can tell me that it’s already around 50 people deep.
Where Crowdbeacon was functional, but a little rough around the edges, Localmind offers a more polished design that truly shines on the iPhone platform. The app looks and feels more native than Crowdbeacon, and it performs better, too. Not to mention that even given the extremely limited beta user pool, my first question was answered within seconds.
Specifically, I saw there were Localmind users at a ramen place I’ve been known to frequent, and since I felt my tummy rumble, I asked if there would be trouble getting a seat, since it was the lunch hour. In less than a minute, I received a response that the restaurant wasn’t busy at all, which sent a notification to both my iPhone and my email address.
Localmind also has the benefit of starting with services you already use. When you launch the app for the first time, it asks you which check-in service you use. Gowalla, Foursquare and Facebook are all supported at this point, and choosing one concludes the sign-up process. The app also adds a gamification element, encouraging users to field questions, by allowing you to become a Localmind Expert once you pass a certain threshold of interaction with the service. Localmind keeps the exact mechanics of this process a secret, but it definitely has to do with how often you check-in and answer questions.
The Localmind app also offers a lot of little touches that make the overall experience decidedly awesome. For instance, you can like or flag people’s replies, which is useful in promoting good behavior and dissuading bad. Liking an answer prompts you to enter a text message reply to the person who posted it, which by default is a quick “Thank you” that makes the service feel a lot more friendly than other similar apps. Whoever came up with the general tone of the language used by the app for messages and notification text really hit the nail on the head, too. It’s informal and jocular, and helps contribute to the general feeling that you’re actually using a social service to genuinely engage with other people.
Localmind is set to be submitted to the App Store very soon, with developers stating this is the last build before it heads to Apple’s approval process. With its smart, simple, good-looking design and a user base that’s already strong even in beta, when it comes to community-assisted local Q&A, this is definitely the app to watch.
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