Now: iPhone App Pulls Instagram Photos to Find Trending Local Events

May 30, 2012

1:00 pm

Event discovery is still a wide-open ballgame.  There’s been a variety of approaches toward capturing this market – ranging from when an event is happening (Time to Enjoy, Sharewhere, Forecast), to where you are at a given moment (RAVNFoursquare), to what your city may have to offer (Thrillist, – but still no single player has emerged.  But what if these approaches are asking the wrong question?  What if it’s not the what, when, or where, but instead the how you view this information.

This is the bet being made by Ben Broca, creator of Now.

Instead of offering an event description, Broca’s iOS app uses the location tag of public Instagram photos to determine what venues/locations are trending.  If enough photos in the same area at the same time populate, Now will recognize this as a trending event and indicate with a drop-pin on the system’s map.  If an event is happening near your current location, Now will send a push notification.

The Roots

With the recent successes of Instagram and Pinterest, Broca’s app is following the ideology of photos telling a much richer story than text.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, Now offers a far better description of local events than any of the current competitors.

As of Now (pun), the app is available in New York City, San Francisco, Paris, and London, and only for the iPhone.

I caught up with Broca to learn more about the inspiration behind his app, what triggers a trending event, and where Now will be expanding to in the future.

Tech Cocktail: What was the inspiration behind the app?

Ben Broca, creator of Now

Ben Broca: With the rise of photo sharing apps like Instagram, I realized that people were constantly taking pictures every time something interesting was coming up in front of their eyes. Therefore, we could start knowing what was happening anywhere through these pictures. In late 2011 I developed a website that took live photo feeds from Instagram in New York, sorting them into places and categories. This product was the genesis of Now: I could instantly know what was happening in art galleries in Chelsea, or where people were going out in the Lower East Side, all in real time.

After a few months, I decided to work on a trending algorithm on top of my existing setup in time for SXSW. My plan was to locate all the cool parties that were going on (and there were many). It worked like a charm! All the best parties were popping up one by one as crowds were taking pictures of their party adventures. That’s when I realized the potential for big cities like New York or San Francisco.

Sure, Foursquare or Yelp tell you about great places around you, but you don’t know if those places are hot right now. This is where Now comes in to fill the gap. It detects anything that’s trending now. The cool thing is it also detects other local news events like the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Tech Cocktail: What triggers a trending event?

Broca:  Now servers are constantly analyzing public photos taken every minute on Instagram and looking for clusters of photos in the same area at the same time. The number of pictures needed to trigger an event really depends on the area, as some common places like museums or train stations are always trending, whereas others have rarely any pictures taken there. We therefore use historical data to filter out bad data and make sure we don’t show irrelevant events to our users.

The user is notified via push notifications when a major event happens around them, and/or they can check what’s happening when they open the app.

Tech Cocktail: What cities will Now be expanding to in the future? Any time frame?

Broca:  Our initial idea was to launch Now in a few major cities to see if there was a demand for this kind of service. Feedback has been terrific so far, and we will definitely open new cities as our user base grows. Our idea is to open a new city as soon as we have a concentration of iPhones installs already in place there. They will start receiving push notifications once their city is open. This is definitely a priority for us and one we are looking forward to achieving!

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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