Spindle Tries to Pre-empt Local Discovery With Social Alerts

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Last week, social discovery app Spindle rolled out a place-based alerts system designed to inform users of interesting and relevant social media updates from local businesses around them. The company, backed by $2.3 million in funding from venture capital firms including Polaris Ventures, Greylock Partners, Lerer Ventures, and SV Angel, now operates in Boston, San Francisco, and New York, and plans to add more cities in the near future.

Street Fight recently spoke with Spindle CEO and cofounder Pat Kinsel about how these social alerts can change the way we relate to local businesses around us and what makes Spindle’s value proposition so vital.

Why did you decide to launch your new “alerts” system?
It’s something that people asked for. Long term, it’s the direction that we want to go and the direction that we see the world going.

Back in August, we had a preview where you could “favorite” places. Spindle would find the best content from your favorite places, so you didn’t have to wade through all of the updates. People said it would be great if Spindle would tell them when there was something cool happening. We thought about that for about four months, and then we wrote algorithms to surface different types of content for them. The alert focuses on actionable content. Long term, it’s our hope that someone will land in a new city and we will tell [him or her] about new stuff. [The person doesn’t] have to have anything favorited.

Most people I know in New York are busy almost all the time. They have destinations in mind when they go places. Do people really need something like Spindle?
That’s why we see the alerts as being so powerful. The challenge with any app is you have to get someone to open it. If the question we’re asking is, “What’s happening nearby?” we have to get someone to open Spindle.

With alerts, the idea is to get that information in front of you before you are considering the question. A person who’s been testing it in Boston got an alert from one of their favorite restaurants at 11:15 telling them about a lunch special. They don’t ever go there for lunch, but they went because of the alert. It’s about giving people ambient awareness at the places they care about. We try to answer questions before they are even asked and keep this stuff on the top of mind.

So it’s more proactive?
Exactly. We try to model all those different situations. If there is a great brunch place on Sunday, we try to get that on your radar. We have two components: One is the interestingness score. You don’t want to be notified of everything; you only want to be notified of cool stuff. Two, we do time-filtering and time-shifting. If a business says, “We’re having a brunch thing on Sunday,” we don’t show that to you until Sunday. We can recognize the time and deliver it then, rather than when the business announces it. The combination of interestingness and time is how we can target people for the right time.

What are the monetization plans? Will you charge small businesses to be part of Spindle?
Right now, we have no relationships with these businesses. To appear in Spindle, a small business does not need to register with us. [It] only need[s] to maintain a Twitter account or a Facebook page. That’s why we have such a high volume of content right now. Long term, we want to make the local query compulsive. We want people to walk around and ask Spindle what’s happening nearby. We think if we can get the query volume up, we will be able to sell placement against that. Amongst our active users, we’re seeing about four queries a day. That maps to what we’re trying to track.

How are you different than other “discovery” companies?
There are a lot of companies that are trying to answer the question, “What’s nearby?” For us, the question is, “What’s happening nearby?” We think we can sustain higher query volume in our premium users and then in aggregate. Foursquare has 7 million daily active users who perform a million queries a day. That’s 13% of their user base. We have four queries per user per day.

Also, a business can pay Foursquare to post an update. We’re listening in already to those updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. In New York, we have 100,000 businesses that are producing content. Our hope is that we can show these businesses value. In an ideal world, a business is posting on Twitter and they’ve never heard of us. A customer comes in and says they found out about the business through the Twitter update sent by Spindle. In the future, we’ll have some ability for the business to pay to promote their content. Our approach is to have a more compelling product that taps into intimate conversations that businesses are already having with their most loyal customers and two, any search volume business is ultimately what matters.

Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.