Four months after its wide launch in iOS, the crowdsourcing, location-based service app Echoer has announced an expansion into Android and a new content partner program with more than 500 media, blogger and event partners, including the Montreal Gazette and Montreal Jazz Festival. The app, first released in beta in Canada this February, curates user feedback within the three categories of thoughts, events and discoveries on top of its Google Maps-powered interface, with the most amplified “echoes” receiving prominent placement. Echoer is mostly targeted toward consumers in Canada, the U.S. and mainland Europe but has also registered more than 10,000 users in Saudi Arabia.
Street Fight caught up with Daniel Cowen, Echoer’s co-founder and CEO, to discuss the app’s progression, the difficulties associated with continually generating real-time content, and how it distinguishes itself from reviews sites like Yelp.
Tell me about the thinking behind Echoer.
The idea came around just over a year ago. My co-founder [Davin Sufer] and I were living in Hong Kong at the time, and he had just got off a terrible journey from Canada, where he’s based (and where we’re now based). He said to me when he got back: “How do I know what people in the same place as me are thinking? How do I know, if I have a really bad experience or a really good experience, if someone else is having that same experience, or if they’re reacting to things differently?”
For different scenarios, like restaurants, airports, music festivals, etc. — yeah, you had review sites, but they tended to be long, outdated and normally written after the event. Then we looked at Facebook and Twitter, and, yeah, you have that instant feedback, but it’s often limited to your friends or the people you follow. There’s nothing that really allows you to open up an app, go onto a map, go into a place and see exactly what people are thinking around there right now or at the moment that they were there. We want to take that idea of real-time thought, real-time commenting and stick it on the map and make it very interactive. That’s what we’ve tried to do with Echoer.
Does Echoer distinguish certain content producers, i.e., bloggers, or does that upset the “meritocracy” that any crowdsourcing app inherently creates?
The content still goes in with the same strength. We have this element of reputation mechanics in our algorithm as well, so because these bloggers are generally well received, over time, their echoes will be louder naturally because they’ve been amped up. In terms of coloring, you’ll see that you can add a thought, event or discovery to Echoer. Thoughts are blue, events are red, [and] discoveries are yellow. Blogger content is actually going in orange, so if you’re at a venue and you see a whole mix of content and something that’s orange, you’re going to know it’s from one of our blogger partners.
How do you continue to field a consistent, steady dose of user comments?
We’re always scouring good sources of content that we’ve found out there, and in a sense, we’re taking the best of the Web, the best of location-based services and bringing some of that content into the system on a regular basis. The blogger program is really key to all of this. These bloggers are writing sometimes three, four [or] five pieces a week, and most of these pieces are finding their way into Echoer. We’ve got people there who are really concerned with what’s happening locally who are putting their content directly into our system, so that’s a really strong source of relevant content.
Also, someone [recently] said to me, “I find echoes in there — they’re old echoes, but they’re at the top.” Sometimes they’re old, and they’re at the bottom. He liked the fact that older pieces stayed in the system, and that if it turned out it was still relevant, you could amplify it. In a way, it would be refreshed and move up to the top again. So the fact that there’s older stuff in there, and that some of it languishes and diminishes and goes down, it’s not the end of the world for that content. If a user goes in there, and they re-engage with it, then it can move back up.
Will content always stay in the system as long as users are interacting with it?
At the moment, it doesn’t disappear. When we get to a critical mass of content and it’s getting too crowded — when it’s diminished and not been re-engaged with a long time — we’re going start to take it out of the system. It’s definitely on the roadmap, but at this stage, we really want to play around with things and see how people are reacting to content before we rip it out of the system.
You’ve divided content into the categories of thoughts, discoveries and events. Which of the three are you seeing most popular among users?
The thoughts tend to be the most frequent. I’d say if you have to break it down into percentages, I’d say 60 percent are thoughts, 30 [percent] would be discoveries, and about 10 [percent] would be events.
There are plenty of review sites out there, and Twitter allows you to organize thoughts via hashtags. What separates Echoer from these platforms?
I’d say it’s the whole combination. It’s the whole notion that we’ve taken the content away from being in a list format, we’ve taken it away from being in a strictly chronological time format, so things can stay around if they’re relevant.
If you look at Twitter and look at how Twitter’s used in location — I can be at a conference, and I can say something, or I can be a restaurant and say something, but over time, it’s just going to disappear, and it’s not normally a long span of time. A thought that you put into Twitter can be gone within seconds. In Echoer, you don’t have that problem. If the thought remains relevant, it stays up top.
When it comes to review sites — whenever I’ve written reviews on pages like TripAdvisor or Yelp, it’s normally after the event. If it’s a restaurant and I’ve had time, maybe I’ll write it a day or two days after I’ve been there. If it’s a hotel and I’ve been on holiday, or it’s a tourist site I’ve seen, it might even be weeks after the event. So what we’ve tried to do is literally put commenting on locations or commenting on your local experience two or three clicks away. That’s the big difference between us and a review site.
How do you work with merchants and event hosts to monetize the app but also preserve the notion that only content amped up by the most users will be most distinctly featured?
Working with venues is on the roadmap; we want to get up to a mass so that it’s valuable to those venues. We can skin the backgrounds of echo spaces, we can allow venues to have full analytics on what’s going on in their space, we can allow them to respond to consumers, and eventually even make offers to consumers via us who’ve been going into places, or echoing in places or amping in them. So that’s going to be something we take forward down the line.
We’re also looking at what kinds of content we can put in the system we could monetize. Suppose you’re ice-skating in the winter, and there’s an ice-staking shop that wants to advertise near that ice rink. You’ll go to the ice rink to see what people are saying around you or in that area, and there will be a deal there from an ice-skating company. That’s kind of a bizarre example, but it’s one that works.
[But] whether it’s a blogger, whether it’s a venue [or] whether it’s a brand that’s putting content out there, it’s all going to be subject to the same rules. If users aren’t engaging with it in a positive way, [or] if it isn’t relevant to a user, it’s not going to be amplified, and it’s not going to get bigger. So we’re never going to put content into users’ faces that they don’t want to be seeing or that other users haven’t found valuable.
Patrick Duprey is an editorial assistant at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.