Facebook is full of clever little apps that deliver interesting but useless stats and graphs to the user.
After getting authorization, an app spins its wheels, hoovering up all the data it can and finally spitting out some pretty graph, friend-web, or stat sheet about which “Harry Potter” character a user is most like.
Not that I’d know anything about that.
But a new cadre of applications is rising above this fray and attempting to deliver a deeper set of services based on the data users so willingly fork over.
Jetpac, a new Web app from co-founders Pete Warden, Derek Dukes and Julian Green, is one such service.
What began life as a simple Facebook-connected Web application is quickly growing out of its Web-browser box and into something novel.
Jetpac’s initial user experience is simple: Connect a Facebook account and Jetpac will return a personalized visualization of where a user has traveled, where all of their friends have been and how much of the world they’ve collectively covered — all tidily bundled up in a vintage-travel-inspired Jetpac.com profile page.
To get the data, Jetpac crawls the captions of every image ever shared across a user’s entire Facebook friend group.
Warden said that translates to an average of 200,000 photos accessible to each Facebook profile, with slightly more than a quarter of those being geolocatable based on a word search of the captions.
“We realized that people do the work of telling us what photos are important and travel-oriented by choosing to take the time to name them,” Warden said.
“People don’t caption pictures from the local bar with the location, because their friends would know. They put the location in the caption when location is an important part of what they are sharing.”
But it’s a fine line between helpful serendipity and photo-stalking.
Warden knows better than most about the dangers of over-creepy geolocation. Back in April, he and a colleague uncovered the iPhone’s location-tracking “bug,” which made national tech news. Their discovery caused Apple, Warden’s former employer, to update its software and eliminate the location-storage issue.
But photo crawling is just the means to an end for Jetpac, which is aiming to launch its iPad app in late January.
The app, which is still in active development, is part photo viewer, part friend-powered travel magazine and part vacation-destination browser.
The app organizes all of the user’s friends’ photos into location-based albums, which can be searched and browsed based on various criteria.
The version I saw was unfinished, but the mixture of photos, friends and places that the app presented felt like a new kind of media experience — one where my friends were part of the story of a place. I was able to see who had only uploaded the requisite tourist shots, and who had spent more time in a given place.
As with many clever ideas, much stands in the way of a successful Jetpac takeoff.
Facebook users are accustomed to a certain kind of relationship with Facebook apps, and the thought of making one connection to the Jetpac Web service, then instantly getting a customized experience on the iPad, may be too foreign for some.
Cutting-edge media problems aside, the tech behind the app isn’t flawless, either. Identifying places by their name can be tricky.
Warden said: “We couldn’t figure out why we were seeing lots of pickup trucks in albums, and then we realized it was called the Chevy Tahoe.”
Apparently, Jetpac can have similar problems differentiating between people who’ve been to Chad and people who know a guy by that name.
Word-nerd jokes notwithstanding, the service’s eventual monetization strategy is also unclear — though it’s not hard to imagine how compelling a product like this could be for the travel industry.
But many start-ups in Silicon Valley don’t focus on making money from the earliest stages, and while Jetpac will eventually have to cross that bridge, the whole construct of a personalized media experience, based solely on the free content pulled from a user’s Facebook account, is a compelling idea — one that will likely be remixed and reissued by others before it finds the right niche.
I talked with Warden and Dukes in their San Francisco office, where they shared some of the big thoughts behind their fledgling app. Enjoy: