Now's iOS App Ties Instagram Photos to Venues to Uncover Local Events

NYC-based mobile app Now is trying to help people discover what events are trending in their city, and give people a lens into those events by showcasing photos taken by attendees. The app, which is available for iPhone users in San Francisco, NYC, Los Angeles, Paris, and London, shows what’s happening in those cities based on Instagram photos taken by locals. Launched in May 2012, the app has over five million photos in its database, and it has featured over 20,000 events in five cities to date.

Founder and former investment banker Ben Broca said people can use Now to discover concerts, flea markets, parties, festivals, and new restaurants; basically any event or hot spot in a city. He got the idea for Now while working with the Instagram API, and seeing how many photos were taken in cities he lived in. It was while he was at South by Southwest in March 2012 that he saw the benefit of grouping Instagram photos based on events.”Looking at how many pictures were taken at different spots in Austin, that showed me where the best parties were,” he said in an interview. “When I came back to New York I tried it in New York to see hey, is it going to show me where the best parties are, and it did.”

Users can see a collection of public photos taken at local events, either on a city-wide map view, or by viewing photos by event. They can share them on Facebook, Twitter, or via SMS or email, in case they want to get friends together and go, and an open in maps feature helps them find out where they’re going. The app also notifies users of trending events via push notifications, and Broca said the next version will feature location-based alerts, so users will get notifications when they walk by a venue with a great event inside.

Right now there are two versions of the app, one for regular users who can find events in their city, and another for the app’s curators, or what Broca calls the “super-users.” While Now’s algorithm groups Instagram photos together and identifies the venue, Now’s curators actually create the events by adding a title and tags. Right now becoming a curator is invite-only, but eventually Broca wants to open it up so any user can create an event.

Right now the app only pulls from Instagram’s API, though Broca said he may add Twitter and foursquare data to give users more context around events. The app is almost like local Q&A service Localmind but for photos, and Broca said he does plan to add in a local Q&A feature down the road, so if someone finds an event they want to attend they can ask about lineups, cover charges, and other details. While the app is free, Broca is considering several options, including local advertising, affiliate fees from booking tickets through the app, and partnering with venues to promote their events.

Right now Broca is raising seed funding, and is planning to hire to add to the team. Though Now is only available in five cities (though users don’t have to be in those cities to use it), Broca said they will be expanding to new cities soon, starting with Chicago, and gradually going international. There are already a wealth of local discovery apps on the market, from UrbanTag to Echoer, not to mention foursquare, which has a solid user base and can tell people what venues are trending at any given moment. While focusing specifically on local events gives the app a niche focus, relying on curators to populate the database of events will likely be hard to maintain, especially as they expand to new cities. If Broca can open up curation to all users while still maintaining the quality, it could be a good tool for locals and visitors to find out what’s going on at any given moment in their city.

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin has covered startups and technology for over three years in publications including Sprouter Weekly, The Globe and Mail, Business Insider, Mashable, and VentureBeat. She also writes a regular startup column for the Financial Post, and is a technology expert on CTV News Channel. Before BetaKit Erin worked as Director of Content & Communications at Sprouter from its launch in 2009 until its acquisition by Postmedia Network Inc. She was recently named one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30 in 2012.

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