Tagwhat: Creating Location-Based Stories

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Foursquare gave us location-based community and merchant information and established check-in behavior among consumers. Now Tagwhat, a Colorado-based company, hopes to build on that legacy by enhancing users’ location experience with what they call a “mobile encyclopedia of where you are.” Tagwhat works to create context to location, providing video, pictures and narratives of where a user is. More than just giving a restaurant review, Tagwhat provides pictures and a history of the restaurant. Street Fight talked to David Elchoness, co-founder and CEO about why context is important for location-based services, how Tagwhat is able to create this location-based encyclopedia, and what’s next for LBS.

There are a lot of applications like Tagwhat. Foursquare, Yelp and even Localite falls into that range, what do you think makes Tagwhat unique?
What Tagwhat really seeks to do is to deliver rich, multi-media content related to location. So, instead of purely a social experience, where you are able to tell your friend a burger is good, for example, or the burger sucks in a restaurant, or you can tell somebody that you checked in at the gym… We’re really enhancing location by delivering videos, stories, images, and audio that relate to places, so that you can get them when you’re at those places.

It’s the difference between a one-liner and actual, real content. For example, walking by a statue and getting the story of why the artist was inspired to create that statue, including videos, images, and stories, as opposed to just checking in there.

On those same lines, you are interested more in the context of the place versus just the place itself. Why do you think that context is important? Why does that matter for a user of your app?
Up until now, we’ve been creating tons of content. That content includes websites and blogs and videos and Flickr images. We’ve got countless sites, countless tools for creating web content. But, that content, much of which relates to location, never gets to locations so that it can enhance the user’s experience there.

For example, a restaurant chef has a website or he’s created videos…he’s creating the food at his restaurant or talking about his favorite dish. All the digital aspects that the chef has created, or has spent so much time to create, never finds its way to the restaurant. So, you can’t get it at the restaurant very easily. The best you can do is a Google search.

What we believe, is that people are curious about their surroundings, and publishers from large media companies all the way down to a chef in a restaurant have an interest in delivering their content in a way that will satisfy the user’s curiosity at the location, as opposed to the situation where you’re sitting at your desk and you’re surfing on the web and you happen to find a window. That, to us, is really a sub-optimal way of experiencing location-related content.

Speaking of the content, how do you gather your content? Who is contributing here?
We get our content in a couple of different ways. The first is we have an online web-publishing site. That’s publish.tagwhat.com, and anyone can contribute content to our house channels, and those channels are heritage, music, sports, food, nature, art… You can go in and create content in these channels. You can pick up to six multi-media files per tag.

The second is through relationships that we have. We have many tourism organizations that are creating content. We have many universities that are creating content. And then, we have relationships with the Associated Press and other media organizations. We even have a relationship with a sports league that has content places around the world.

The third way we get content is through open sources. Right now, what we’re doing is working at integrating roughly 750,000 Wikipedia articles on a location-related basis. In addition to the individuals who are publishing in the tourism group, and the sports groups, and the universities and so forth we are also going to have Wikipedia deals.

If you have people self-publishing on your site, how do you filter that, to make sure that information is accurate or something you want associated with Tagwhat.
We look at it. We actually look at the content that is submitted by individuals to make sure that it fits. We really want our app to be a high quality and satisfying user experience. If something is purely an advertisement, we’re going to reject it and we’re going to suggest that instead, they put in a story. If the video is really hard to see or the audio is hard to hear, we’re going to push it right back and we’re going to say: ‘Can you find better media?’ We really want this to be a quality experience.

We strike a balance. We want people to submit content, but we also want quality content so we do look at that before it’s published.

Are you tailoring your app for any kind of demographic? Is it more for locals, more for tourists, for a younger demographic? Or is it just a broad spectrum?
It’s a large spectrum. I think that initially… the first adopters are the people who are visiting a place, so the Tourism Bureau, for example, has an interest. Dallas/Fort Worth is our biggest one. They have an interest in delivering to people, visiting Dallas/Fort Worth, a compelling experience. They’re going to promote that around Dallas so that people can enjoy that content while they’re there.

Same thing for a university, like Bowling Green State, one of our big ones. They want people who are visiting, whether they’re students or parents, to have an interesting experience when they’re at Bowling Green. When they see the old buildings, they can learn about them. I think at first, it will be people who were visiting a place.

I think that long term, this will be the way to experience media, regardless of wether you’re visiting a place or not. We had a guy in New York who’s a tour guide. He told us that he’s learned things about New York from Tagwhat that he didn’t know, even though he’s lived there for 30 years and is a tour guide.

What do you think is the future for companies like Tagwhat and other location-based services? How do you think it’s going to be changing over the next few years?
I think that there is no doubt that location is going to play a very major role in how we use computers. That is particularly the case because the mobile device is in our hands all the time. We’re always using it. I think the next evolution for location really does focus on rich content…and richer experiences as opposed to one-off transactions, like looking for a restaurant or looking at a review for a restaurant. I think that’s the way we get our feet wet, but that ultimately, a location-based app is really about a richer location-based experience and that’s why we’re focused on that at Tagwhat.

Eventually, we’ll get into all sorts of interesting ways to deliver to people, opportunities based on where they are. For example, if you’re interested in sports, by virtue of how you use Tagwhat, we ought to be able to make appropriate sports-related offers to you through the application. It’s really about a richer experience allocation and high degrees of personalization.

Isa Jones is an intern at Street Fight.