It has been a lucrative couple of years for companies seeking funding armed with a powerfully simple idea: sharing exactly where you are and what you’re doing with friends or colleagues using a mobile phone and a data connection. A company called Trover hopes to join that group by catering to explorers at heart, but will face a tough time elbowing into an already crowded space.
Trover is both a Seattle startup and an iPhone application, one that lets users take pictures of interesting places they find during their travels and share them with fellow users. It’s led by Chairman Rich Barton (who counts founding stints at Expedia and Zillow on his resume) along with CEO Jason Karas and Andrew Coldham, vice president of technology, and is sort of a side project that has emerged from Travelpost.com, a travel reviews site that counts all three as team members.
The concept is pretty familiar: take a picture of that cool new restaurant around the corner from your apartment or the trailhead that leads to that awesome waterfall with your mobile phone and upload it using Trover’s app. It then goes into a geolocation database that can be shown to other Trover users as a “discovery” when they ask the application what kinds of interesting things are near their current location or when they “follow” another Trover user’s updates.
So it’s sort of like Foursquare meets Instagram with a dash of Yelp and Foodspotting built in. Karas seems to have heard this criticism before, pointing out the unique points of Trover’s approach: it’s for places only (pictures of people get deleted by community moderators), it’s not about real-time “check-ins” but rather a record of significant discoveries in your area, and it’s not just about restaurants, although people do share restaurant tips through the app. And it’s not Color, Karas assured me, although it’s not clear whether Color is Color anymore.
But only 70,000 people are currently using the service, based on a deliberate decision to limit logins to those with Facebook accounts. Starting Thursday, anyone with a Twitter account or e-mail address will also be allowed to sign up for the service, which will likely draw more users but could chip away at the community aspect of the service, which Karas said has been key to the experience so far. And Karas said the company is looking into ways to get merchants to participate, but it hasn’t figured out exactly how some sort of sponsored “discovery” would work in Trover’s stream of updates.
We’re nearing a point in the evolution of location-aware mobile services where you have to start to wonder just how many photo-sharing travel/nightlife applications the mobile market can take, especially when application discovery and post-download engagement are two of the biggest problems that mobile application developers face. Still, with the barriers to entry so low, launching a new company with nothing but a mobile app and some experienced entrepreneurs is a relatively easy way to see what types of services will gain traction with consumers.