Startup Weotta has focused for the last few years on helping users find cool activities that they’re interested in. Today it’s unveiling a search engine-style interface that mirrors how you think and ask about those kinds of activities.
So if you’re wondering, “Where should I go for date night?” or “Where can I take my kids this weekend?” you can type those questions into Weotta and probably get a good answer.
The service has evolved quite a bit since it launched at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2011. The most recent versions (before this one) have presented users with a stack of cards describing nearby activities, allowing users to swipe in different directions to indicate their interest, with social features added, as well.
While this may not have been the exact route that CEO Grant Wernick envisioned when he co-founded the company, he argued that the previous versions of the product have been “building towards search,” and that they were also, in their way, necessary: “If we hadn’t put out those interim products, we wouldn’t have gotten the signals from people giving us these ideas of what they really wanted.”
I played with the new version of Weotta earlier this morning, and I found that it gave me results that were fun and fitting, whether I was looking for “date night tonight” or “cool art house art movies.” The one place where it fell down a bit was when I looked for “tech parties” and ended up with a seemingly random list of party-type events. (But maybe Weotta was saying those would be much more fun than a tech party …)
At the same time, the company hasn’t completely abandoned its card-based interface. The results are still presented five cards at a time; when you click on a card you can see the relevant details (including commentary from Facebook friends), save them if you’re interested, and look at similar activities. One of the nice touches is that if you look at an event or venue listing and then return to your main search, the results will be readjusted to prioritize items similar to what you were just looking at.
Bigger players are experimenting with these kinds of local, activity-based searches by using natural language processing and other technologies. But Weotta actually has backing from one of those big players in the form of a Google Ventures-led round, and Wernick recalled talking to GV recently about how “this is a really hard search problem.”
For example, he noted that if you Google “fun things to do with kids this weekend,” the local baseball game is unlikely to show up unless those words are on the relevant page — say, if it’s kids’ day at the stadium. (Is that a thing? I’m not really a baseball fan.) What you need is the kind of data that Weotta has amassed, both about individual locations and broader patterns — in this case, the fact that “a lot of people with kids go to baseball games.”
Given the search interface, I also had to ask about the fact that a lot of lettering seemed to be done in Yahoo-style purple. When I brought it up, Wernick laughed and said it was designed to give a “royal feeling.”
Weotta is launching with a new desktop/mobile website today and a new iOS app, with an Android app planned to follow.