Personalized recommendations app Jybe debuted an updated version of its iPhone app today, to help people make decisions based on their social circles and interests. Founded in January 2011, the Redwood City, CA-based company aims to provide users with recommendations on what to eat, what to watch, and what to read, and lets them book movie tickets and tables at restaurants, or download books via the app. In beta since April 2012, today’s update focuses on a visual redesign, and adds more content and the ability to see influential users.
Jybe co-founder and ex-Yahoo engineer Arnab Bhattacharjee said that today’s update is also about providing context and information around recommendations, for example seeing reviews for a book recommendation, viewing a recipe based on dishes you like, or showing movie trailers based on a user’s past viewing history. Bhattacharjee said the app’s design has also been updated to improve user experience, and they’ve improved the recommendation algorithms based on the data they’ve collected in the past four months. They’ve also added an influencer feature so that as users engage within the app, they become influential on certain topics.
The app aims to help users make decisions about restaurants, books or movies based on their interests and their social networks. It provides a stream of updates on what users could do in their area. Bhattacharjee said the typical use case would be someone traveling to a new city who has free time, and would typically use a combination of review sites, web searches, expert commentary and their social networks to find out what to do. “Jybe will actually do all of that work for me on my behalf, and do it quickly,” he said.
After opening the app, users are asked provide a few insights on what kind of food, books and movies they like, and can then find friends using the app, and connect it to their social networks. The app shows a stream of recommendations, and users can either like, dislike, save, or share any given recommendation, or add a comment. As users provide feedback on items, the app gets better at serving up content. The company pulls from APIs including OpenTable, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Fandango, so users can book a table, add movies to their Netflix queue, buy books, and book movie tickets through the app. And users can view influencers in any category, to check out their lists of favorite restaurants, books and movies. “We help you augment your social network,” he said. ”A lot of the great things that you discover in life come from other people, and if we connect you up to the right people by finding lists of people who are similar, you’ll never miss a thing.”
The company has seed funding and Bhattacharjee said the app will remain free, and that right now the team is focused on getting the product right so they’ll look at monetization options next year. He said down the line they’ll look at providing recommendations that match with a user’s interests, similar to how intelligent companion app Saga wants to provide branded recommendations to users.
There are several players in the mobile recommendations space, from restaurant recommendation apps like Livestar and Ness (which just added $15 million in funding and plans to expand beyond restaurants), to Saga, which aims to be a mobile personal assistant, and provides recommendations on everything from the best route to take home in rush hour, to the best restaurant to try nearby. Bhattacharjee said they tend to look at themselves as a mobile discovery engine, and they want to do what Flipboard does for content for real-world things. He says that while Ness and sites like Goodreads are competitors, they’re focused on one category, while Jybe’s goal is to help users find recommendations on anything. “We’re really focused on giving all the cool stuff that you could do in your day,” he said. “We are what Amazon and Yelp should grow into, I suppose.”
While the app’s books and movie recommendations will work anywhere (except for local movie theater information), restaurant recommendations only work in North America, though the team will be looking to build it out internationally. While right now the app focuses on food, books, and entertainment, Bhattacharjee said they’ll be branching out in the food and entertainment space, adding event listings like concerts. They’re also planning to expand to iPad and Android.
The recommendations and discovery space is an extremely competitive one, so it begs the question of whether users need another app to find out what to do next in their day. Co-founder Tim Converse said in an interview that where other recommendation apps like Oink have failed is in their crowdsourced data, since if all reviews are created by users, then the app is only useful once it hits a critical mass. “We just don’t think that scales,” he said. “There has to a be a very deep and solid database in the background with lots of information even before the first user arrives to make it useful for the first user, and then the social layer is layered on top.”