CO Everywhere App Traces a New Way to View Neighborhoods
Boston startup Block Avenue formed around the idea of helping people unearth information about their neighborhoods. But eventually, the young company found the real stars of the show: the people living in those places.
Equipped with super-smart devices and ever-faster broadband connections, those everyday folks are now publishing an exponentially growing array of content through social media channels.
Plot that on a map, and a place can leap to life.
“There was a big change when I started reading the content as a human,” CEO Tony Longo says. “My grocery store, my dry cleaner, the bars I frequent, the restaurants I frequent—the proprietors who are behind these social media feeds, these are like my people.”
Today, the startup officially has a new name, a new product, and a new mission. Now called CO Everywhere, it’s introducing a mobile app that lets users keep tabs on slices of the world by following media feeds tied to specific neighborhoods or locations.
Users can set up these feeds by drawing the boundary of a favorite spot with their finger on a smartphone touchscreen, or by choosing one of the pre-selected famous places, including the Louvre, Google headquarters, or the Playboy Mansion.
Once a neighborhood or location is selected, CO Everywhere shows a view of what’s happening in that area by pulling in other people’s publicly accessible posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, various meetup websites, coupons or “daily deals,” and more.
The result can be an interesting new way to look at places you might frequent, kind of like eavesdropping on a bunch of nearby conversations—you wouldn’t normally see most of this stuff if you weren’t connected with these people on the various social networks. As a relative newbie to the Boston area, I could imagine finding new dinner spots or running trails to check out, for example.
You also can get a glimpse inside places you might not normally see, like Apple’s headquarters, or the Gorge Amphitheatre during a concert you couldn’t make it to.
“Content creation is happening globally at a mind-boggling rate,” Longo says. “I don’t necessarily have to be friends with someone on Twitter or Facebook or Yelp for them to say something that’s totally relevant to me.”
It’s the culmination of about five months’ worth of work for the startup, which is based in the PayPal “Start Tank” offices downtown. CO Everywhere added another $500,000 in angel investment to fuel its new product, on top of $500,000 previously raised for Block Avenue. Investors include Ty Danco and Semyon Dukach.
The team of about a half-dozen—which includes co-founder and CTO Dan Adams—is diving into a notoriously difficult market for startups and established companies alike. Yelp and Google are among the more prominent big names that are trying to finally unlock the promise of applying digital-age efficiencies to local economies, with varying degrees of success.
Plenty of startups also have tried to crack this nut. Foursquare is well-established now, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Some other startups operating in local search or data markets—Seattle’s Alike, Boston’s Spindle—that have been bought by larger tech companies primarily for their engineering talent.
This first version has some bugs, as you might expect—in testing the app, I wasn’t able to get a feed to load around the home stadiums of my Seattle sports teams, which is a shame because there was probably a ton of photos from the packed Major League Soccer game there this weekend. Places closer to home around the Boston worked well, though, and I found CO Everywhere useful in finding out things I wasn’t aware of before, like meetups near my house or a good new dinner option.
Like other social media feeds, you’ve got to do some tuning. I had to mute the yacht charter business near my house, because although the photos of sun-splashed boat parties looked nice, I’m not going to be writing them checks anytime soon. Ditto for a neighbor of mine who is apparently a huge Lady Gaga fan (he spent a good chunk of today sending out screenshots of her MTV performance).
Ultimately, like other consumer digital products, success for CO Everywhere depends on whether enough people find its tool fun and interesting. But there’s clearly still some territory to cover in unlocking the location capabilities of the smartphones people are carrying around all day.
“Without question, not all of the products have been created yet,” Longo says. “We probably won’t be the last.”