Rich Barton & Co. Try a Location-Linked Photo-Sharing App: Trover

7/28/11Follow @curtwoodward

That dang Rich Barton is one busy dude. Fresh off the public-market debut of Zillow (NASDAQ:Z), the Seattle uber-entrepreneur (he also founded Expedia) is trying to boost the user base of another one of his ventures, the location photo-tagging startup Trover.

Yes, indeed—another location/mobile/photo/social play.

As we saw with yesterday’s news that Seattle’s PhotoRocket had downsized, the zone has quickly become flooded with apps and Web services trying to hit a sweet spot with all of those smartphone-enabled tricks. Do it right, and you could theoretically attract a huge user base of people sharing tons of data about what they like, where they are, and who they know.

Most infamous of them all is Color, the Silicon Valley photo-sharing startup that landed $41 million in venture capital and reportedly turned down a big buyout offer from Google before it even had a serious app in the field. It didn’t turn out so well. And there are plenty of other players.

Trover’s pitch is that it’s tying together the location-tagging features of a Foursquare, the photostream sharing idea of an Instagram, and the crowd ratings of something like Yelp into one package. Users are supposed to leave a trail of virtual breadcrumbs behind for others to discover as they explore different locations.

So, if I had used it while writing this story, I’d have taken a picture of the BBQ pork sandwich I was enjoying at Xconomy’s Ballard bureau and described its finer features for my pals to check out later if they come by this same spot.

Trover has been in a beta mode for three months, testing out its product with about 70,000 users. That’s not a huge pool, but CEO Jason Karas says the experimental users have been responding well, including some self-policing of newbies who post photos of non-locations, which Trover actually bans to keep the activities focused.

“That was always our challenge—no baby pictures,” Karas says with a laugh. “We’re doing a lot just from a social engineering standpoint about what Trover’s used for. … That’s been painstaking, but successful.”

Is that enough to survive, much less stand out, in a forest of mobile photo applications? Who knows. There’s clearly something in the behavior itself that people are glomming onto—Instagram famously has about 1.25 million users per employee right now.

Trover is funded in kind of a weird way. It spun out of TravelPost, an earlier Barton startup that Karas worked for, which was a website where people could share travel experiences such as hotel reviews.

TravelPost raised $9.8 million last year from investors including General Catalyst, Ignition Partners and Benchmark Capital. But there doesn’t appear to be much going on over at TravelPost right now, and Karas says the leaders took “a sizable chunk” of the money to work on Trover, which is technically owned by TravelPost. TravelPost is technically still alive, but most of the resources are being poured into Trover now, a spokeswoman says. Whew.

Trover was just open to people with Facebook logins during the trial period, but as of today the whole shebang is being opened up—people who want to try it out can sign in with Twitter accounts, email addresses, or download the iPhone app.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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