A ‘Vicinity Browser’ That Targets Local with the Power of Social

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Once a novelty, “geobrowsing” apps  have lately become a bit of a yawn. The products may be useful for navigating the hyperlocal landscape, but they haven’t always proven compelling enough to hold consumer interest.

One new-ish product that that might bring geobrowsing back to the fore is Cynapse’s Localscope. The iPhone app, which was released in January, does what you might expect from a geo-centered service, gathering information about the area around you from multiple search engines and presenting it on a map. But rather than just focusing on technology or data depth, Localscope takes a lateral step into polishing design and UI to make an elegantly efficient experience. Flick your thumb through results from one info provider or social net to another — nice.

The service also introduces more than one content provider and provides social contexts (integrating data from Bing, Google, Foursquare, Twitter and Wikimapia), augmented reality, live working compasses — which point the way to what you need — and a kind of learning engine that figures out the top things you commonly want.

Street Fight caught up with CEO Apurva Roy Choudhury to talk about the how geo-location is evolving and why Localscope is different from the rest.

What was the impetus behind Localscope?
We have been incorporating various geo-data requirements for some of our customers into our enterprise collaboration platform, Cyn.in. We realized that while storing and cataloging geo-data is a relatively straightforward proposition, there was very little one could practically perform with this information.

While more and more systems like Cyn.in and various other social systems gather and catalog geo-information in the form of checkins, geo-tags etc., no one was really thinking about putting all of this information to use in ways beyond the obvious. We started ideating about filling these gaps and soon realized that the market potential in our ideas are larger than we initially thought, and goes far beyond providing geo-interfaces to only our own software. We have always had a strong focus in creating awesome interfaces and user experience, so we decided to create an app that lets people access and use geo-data in ways that are useful in everyday activities. Besides, we’ve always wanted to make the tricorder from Star Trek a reality, and Localscope is our first step towards doing so.

We intend to seamlessly integrate with a wide variety of relevant tools like navigation and communication apps, allowing users to enhance the value of their existing apps and usage scenarios.

Cynapse CEO Apurva Roy Choudhury

How would you describe Localscope to someone who didn’t know anything about it?
Localscope lets you browse and find all sorts of local information. It is the quickest way to find and visualize places and people around you. It also lets you perform actions like call, navigate to, or share the found information in a variety of ways by integrating with some of your favorite apps and social networks.

There are a lot of GPS-centered apps that help you find what’s nearby. How does this up the ante?
The basic apparent benefit to a new user is more choice and higher relevance. Due to the way geo-information services acquire their information, and the fact that social systems base information around the users social graph, available information across various systems about a location is usually very disparate, yet highly relevant. Localscope aims to be a new kind of browser (we like to call it a vicinity browser) that lets users access and visualize local information from a variety of sources and use this information in meaningful ways.

The benefit of aggregating information from multiple sources is even more apparent in the global perspective, in countries where local information is sparse. We intend to maintain a sharp focus for Localscope and instead of building in every possible feature into the app, we intend to seamlessly integrate with a wide variety of relevant tools like navigation and communication apps, allowing users to enhance the value of their existing apps and usage scenarios.

How are you monetizing Localscope?
Besides the fact that Localscope is going to be a paid application for the foreseeable future ($1.99), and app sale revenues have already made the department profitable in the first quarter itself, we are exploring quite a few diverse models of monetization via strategic partnerships. However, these models are too premature for us to talk about yet.

Do you have deals with the services you incorporate (Bing, Yelp, Google, etc.)?
Currently Localscope uses only the publicly available APIs of the services. We are in talks with various service providers for deeper integrations at the moment.

How exactly does the app’s “GPS strength meter” work and what is it’s reason for inclusion?
Usually in indoor conditions, the location services of the device cannot get a GPS lock and switches to Wi-Fi or cell tower triangulation to estimate the users location. This sometimes causes the information to be inaccurate by 200 to 500 meters. During our real world tests, we realized that even slightly inaccurate location information was disconcerting to the users. We put the GPS meter in a quickly accessible location to let the user easily judge the accuracy of the displayed information.

The GPS strength meter works by analyzing the accuracy and altitude information provided by iOS location services. This means, if the location information is accurate upto a 15 meter radius, all bars turn green, if its accurate upto a 50 meter radius three bars are green, and so on. If there is no GPS lock at all, and the device is depending upon cell tower triangulation or WiFi to determine the users location, the meter turns red to indicate that the accuracy is low.

Are you planning any social elements for the service beyond location-sharing?
Absolutely. One of Localscope’s primary focus areas is to let users do more with local information. In the upcoming versions Localscope will have tighter integration with various new and existing networks, allowing much richer interactivity and increased relevance by overlaying deep social data into the presented information. Our goal with Localscope is to be the most intuitive search and browse interface to geo specific content and evolve the way people discover their vicinity. We think with the current version of Localscope we have just about scratched the surface this goal, and there are a lot of interesting things up ahead.

Speaking of the future, what in your opinion does it hold for the industry?
The potential of geo-aware applications is huge and I think we are just beginning to see and use the first round of basic applications in this domain. Futuristically speaking I see geo-context being a feature that is deeply ingrained into a broad spectrum of applications like e-commerce, gaming, communication, content distribution, reservation systems and banking. In the near future, I would expect to see some interesting innovations in the hyperlocal ecommerce space, that could augment the consumer experience of retail shopping with the benefits of e-commerce and internet advertising in tighter, unforeseen ways. I also expect a strong demand for geolocation oriented communication tools, taking the next wave of geo-social applications to mainstream usage.