Localmind is an intriguing little mobile app that has big potential.
It's a live Q&A service (see Quora, Answers, the departed Aardvark) about locations (see Foursquare, Facebook). If you want to know how crowded a bar or restaurant is, you pose the question on Localmind. People (but not all of them) who have checked in at that location on Foursquare get an alert and can reply to your query. Hopefully, you get your answer back quickly enough to matter.
The app was launched at SxSW last year, and it's great for arenas like that; a lot of people competing for floor space, spending half their time buried in their smartphones.
Out in the real world, Localmind CEO Lenny Rachitsky says it's been a minor struggle to get people to remember to use the app. "It's not useful all the time, so people forget about it."
The team has been tweaking the social model since launch, trying to get ahead of that problem. First, Localmind got "experts," people who would get questions about venues even if they weren't checked in there. For example, if you're an expert on a particular restaurant, even if you're home, you might get a question like "What's the best thing to order?"
That helps for two reasons. The first, obviously, is that it makes it more likely that a user will get an answer to a question. The second is that it reminds users of the app's existence when questions pop up on their screens.
Today, Localmind 2.0 is launching, with yet another way to spread the use case out a bit. Now you'll be able to ask questions about entire areas. What's the best place to park in North Beach? Can you recommend a restaurant for a date in the East Village? And so on.
There's "a lot of science" in the Localmind service, Rachitsky says. He wants to make sure that people get timely answers from users who know what they are talking about, and the social graph doesn't provide enough information for that, so Localmind has to dig deeper into response patterns of its users. But the work is paying off. Tweaking algorithms and adding the Expert feature have led to improved answer rates: from 50 percent at launch to 90 percent, Rachitsky says, and "usually within three minutes."
He hopes Version 2.0's Area feature will juice that even further.
Eventually, Rachitsky says, Localmind may begin to peel away from its reliance on Foursquare for location reporting. He is highly aware of the privacy issues around real-time location tracking, though, so for this new feature, he's taking it slow.
Localmind is available everywhere, but Rachitsky says its strongest user bases are in San Francisco, New York, Montreal, and Tokyo. There are versions for the iPhone and the iPad.