Living in a mega city like London is both great and overwhelming. With so much going on, there’s no time to find out what’s good and what isn’t. Sometimes you just have to rely on your friends to tell you what’s happening.
Now, a brand new mobile app called Kites, available for iOS and Android, wants to help city explorers find places they would love to check out through personal recommendations from friends. Krishan Patel, founder of Kites, told Geektime that it’s meant to be the “Twitter for the real world.”
Photo of Krishan Patel, Kites founder. Photo Credit: LinkedIn
In London’s tech community, where you’ll hear the complaint “not another social media app,” how can Kites stand out? Addressing how Kites is different from Foursquare, Patel noted that, “Unlike platforms such as FourSquare, Kites allows more personalization. There is no star rating, and no general updates. Features similar to Twitter such as retweeting or groups allows direct response to friends and their visits to spots. Whereas Foursquare allows to see what are the best restaurants (something Foursquare is well covered on), Kites allows you discover new places like restaurants that only your friends talk about on Kites.”
Krishan criticized the star rating system, saying that one just wouldn’t know the difference between a three or five star rating of a restaurant on Foursquare, for example. “Does the lower rating mean that you might get food-poisoning or aren’t the curtains as nice as they could be? On Kites recommendations come from friends, people you trust: It has information much more relevant to you,” stated Krishan.
It has all the elements of an addictive app
The UX/UI is one good reason to love Kites. Krishan coded both the Android and IOS App versions by himself – and it follows the kind of structure that makes a social media app truly great.
If you don’t believe there’s a magic formula, listen to Nir Eyal, author of the book Hooked. Eyal is a cheerleader for integrating “psychological intelligence” into social media platforms, and says there is a four-part process. First there is the trigger. Then there is the ability to take action. Third, rewards incentivize people to participate more, and finally, a reason to invest – a code word for sharing your experience – drives the cycle of social media communication to a viral online climax.
Kites impresses because the app’s features cover all four stages really well. The trigger is very satisfying: Kites updates come in the form of push notifications when you walk by a place the GPS recognizes (similar to Foursquare). Kites are essentially bookmarks or pins for maps which users leave in interesting places. Like Twitter, Kites are restricted to 140 characters.
Krishan says that Kites let you leave recommendations and tips for other users. “One can leave funny or intriguing comments for places, help people discover hidden secrets about a location and so on. Friends can also browse ahead of time and see what’s special or cool about an area, and people can then respond.”
Location based service drives users to act
Eyal’s ‘action’ stage is also obvious. You can respond to a friend’s Kite or place your own in a location that left an impression on you. It doesn’t matter whether your Kite is positive or negative: It’s valuable for your followers to discover something new and exciting, and just as useful to be warned off. Kites followers can also ‘star’ a friend’s Kite, similar to Facebook ‘likes.’
Krishan has lived in London all his life, but says, “There’s still always the chance that just a couple of hundred meters away there’s something undiscovered that I’m going to be interested in. A couple of months ago, someone told me that there’s a place in St. Charles, a free space for tech people like me with free WIFI. I can just go in, get drinks and hack away. But every time I’m there, it’s just my friend and me all alone. Nobody in the tech community in London knows about the place: It’s something I would have never known about if it hadn’t been for the recommendation of a friend.”
Krishan says the app is for travelers as well as locals: “I can imagine both use cases,” he says. “I think one of the big things is that life is all about the people you trust and care about. It’s not about following everyone in the world, like on Twitter. If you’re coming to a new city, you can open Kites before going on your city tour and see what friends might have left for you in terms of experiences.” Interestingly, Kites works both on and offline, thus not requiring 3G/4G or wi-fi – which makes it perfect for people on the road. Krishan explains that he intends to involve more travel bloggers too, because people usually trust them.
As for Eyal’s final two steps in the loop, the reward and investment Krishan offers are similar to the big social media platforms, but are still refreshingly unique. He says the idea came from a desire to find new places – whilst admitting to not being a very brave person (How brave do you have to be to found and code a perfectly viable Twitter competitor on your own?).
“I don’t really like trying new things and failing or being disappointed,” he says. “But if someone I trust recommends me something, it can essentially break my habit, even my fear, and I’d decide to give it a shot.” Kites is rewarding for Krishan because it’s like a self-administered therapy to try new things; things he would otherwise simply never experience.
My review after testing it out for two weeks
After using the app for two weeks, whenever I check out amazing places, it comes to my mind that I should share it. This is the kind of investment Nir Eyal is talking about. The key is to make users want to share and engage, in order to drive the social media machine further.
This week, Kites published a new feature on Android, called ‘collections.’ “The idea is to allow users to group Kites together – both ones they have made and those contributed by others – into collections like ‘Favorite places for breakfast in Rome’ or ‘Best graffiti in London,’” says Krishan. “If you use Product Hunt, you’ll see it’s very similar. Future versions will allow users to make collections private, so only the user can see them. Leaving Kites just for yourself is a big missing feature, I think,” Krishan explains.
Kites has received no funding yet. It’s all bootstrapped. But Krishan is keen to make Kites a successful business, and has a few business cases in mind. But when asked what he thinks of advertising, he responds with a mix of laughter and disgust. He isn’t fond of advertising incorporated in social media. “I am trying to avoid advertising on Kites as much as possible – it just feels wrong to me”, he says. He adds that the sector is plagued with problems right now; like location, advertising and security.
At the moment, Krishan’s plan is to have paid services on top of Kites. One idea is to offer self-guided tours around cities like London, where users can access highly-curated and validated Collections of Kites, which Krishan calls Kite Trails. Trails are ideal for visitors who are bored of the typical London City bus tours, and are keen to explore themselves.
Who will lead the pack in the crowded location-based services market?
Today’s location-based services would not have been possible 10 years ago, and the market is fertile for growth. Just recently, Google updated its ‘Field Trip’ platform, Krishan says. The platform helps users discover interesting places in categories like architecture, history, events, food places, outdoor art etc. Google does this by monitoring the web for interesting articles or facts about places and then sticking them on a map. Their platform looks nice but is no competition. Field Trip can’t provide the personalization offered by Kites – it’s just an aggregation of public facts.
You’d think that Krishan’s idea already exists many times over, but that’s not the case. A U.S. venture, Findery, has a big team (including founders from Flickr) and picked up $9.5 million in venture funding in 2011 and 2012. Offline, another London startup called Telescope lets users create personalized cards for their friends, offering recommendations for places to visit, plus location information, printed on well designed, great quality card. Google’s “Field Trips” platform, MAPS.ME, and may others also provide similar services.
But the next wave of location-based services is coming, and will rely on how much data they can collect. “An example of where the quality of recommendations and big data works is Tinder,” Krishan says. “Tinder can actually recommend where the best bars are to hook up. Why? Because they have reliable data.” And Krishan believes these big data opportunities haven’t been fully leveraged yet. “Nobody really understands yet how to leverage the full power of location. Mobile phones have really opened up a whole new chapter, and it’s not been really well implemented yet.”