Apart from my wife, who has lived in Germany and Africa for extended periods of time, I'm probably the most-traveled of my closest friends. While this gives me an ego boost or sorts, it makes something like Gogobot almost completely useless to me. A few weeks ago I sat through an event where Travis Katz, co-founder and CEO of Gogobot, talked about his firm's plans to dominate the world of travel through a service that uses Facebook-style social media sharing to power a recommendation engine app, which helps people plan the perfect trip. Like the best apps, Gogobot was born out of frustration: Katz was planning a trip and was tired of looking at anonymous reviews or recommendations from people he didn't know. Instead, Gogobot pulls directly from a user's own social circle to find out the best places to stay, eat and visit during a vacation.
"You place more trust in information from people you know," Katz said. I can't argue with that, but what if the people you know don't know enough? Katz has been to more than 55 countries. As an entrepreneur he no doubt boards planes more often than the average human being who gets two or three weeks of vacation a year. While the technology behind Gogobot is no doubt sound, and the available database of friend recommendations of those who use it will build over time, you need a certain critical mass for the service to provide the most value. Such is the challenge for all kinds of recommendation engines.
Recently Yahoo gained considerable attention when it bought Stamped, its first acquisition under new CEO Marissa Mayer. No one is sure exactly what Yahoo will do with Stamped, which offered a more wide-ranging recommendation service that tied into a user's choice of books and meals, among other categories. All we do know is that the app will be killed off, to be replaced with something that likely integrates more with other Yahoo-based content.
The differing paths of Gogobot and Stamped are a good illustration of the choices and challenges facing developers that want to build apps in this space. You can find your niche--the narrower the better--as long as you can prove to investors and the market that your target audience will generate enough activity or content to power the recommendations. Or you can go broad route and try to compete with the likes of Yahoo and Amazon, huge sites that will no doubt be joined by others such as Google and Microsoft in 2013. Either way, this is not an app segment for the faint of heart.
Raved, Hooked and Jybe are among the many recommendation apps all trying to gain traction in this space. However, the developers who stand the greatest chance of succeeding with recommendation apps are those that understand where mobility and recommendations should meet. Gogobot's app runs on iPhone and will soon include an Android version, but for many users the experience may start at the desktop. Yahoo obviously has a mobile version of its site, but I don't think many would describe it as a mobile-first company. Consider where consumers will be and what will they be doing when looking up a recommendation. Shopping in a store is one simple example, as a new study from PriceGrabber indicates. Anywhere that someone might be waiting in line might be another. There's also a need to incentivize the act of recommending--what rewards besides demonstrating expertise will motivate users to contribute to the database?
Yahoo's acquisition of Stamped and the recent buzz around Gogobot will attract more entrants to market, and it would be great to see more of these apps available to consumers in 2013. But it's not going to be an easy way to get a hit. If you're working on something like this, do a little bit of extra homework first. At least, that's what I would recommend.--Shane