Today we kick off a new series of mobile search app reviews and road tests with Goby, a mobile search app that helps people find fun things to do nearby. The company behind the app, described by tech celeb Robert Scoble as more important than Foursquare, was acquired on Friday by location services giant TeleNav, proof that mobile search is a new must-have feature of apps, services and discovery schemes.
* * *
While Google may have sewn up the market when it comes to general or horizontal Internet search, the race to dominate the mobile and alternative search space is far from run. In fact, it’s just starting. A top contender for a lead spot is Goby, a mobile search app available on the Apple and Android platforms designed from the ground up to help people find fun stuff to do nearby.
The concept certainly sold TeleNav, a leading provider of location-based services (LBS) to consumers, enterprise, wireless service providers and automotive companies with more than 24 million paying subscribers as of June 30, 2011. TeleNav was one of the first companies in North America to launch a GPS management service and has since grown to provide products in 29 countries through 16 mobile carriers.
TeleNav quietly snapped up Goby last week for an undisclosed sum. Additional details on timing and extent of Goby content and technology integration will be announced at a later date.
Peggy adds: The motivation is no doubt linked to TeleNav’s increasing focus on the delivery of location-specific, real-time, personalized services such as GPS navigation and local search. After all, the fit between turn-by-turn navigation and finding fun stuff nearby is a no-brainer. What’s more, Goby, a search and discovery engine, counts nearly 500,000 users as of the 1Q2011 — a figure Goby said was on track to reach one million by 4Q2011.
RATING: Reliable, easy to drive, and with an attractive exterior!
Availability: You can find Goby at www.goby.com, in the Apple App Store (iPhone and iPad) or in the Android Market.
In my view, Goby has a jump start on most other search apps. I consider it to hold the pole position because Goby moved so quickly from the web to the iPhone, cruised right through the Android Market, and then roared onto the iPad!
I invite everyone to download the free app on their device(s) and take Goby out for a spin. I did, so now let’s look at the results.
Goby is the brainchild of co-founders Mark Watkins (CEO), Vince Russo (CTO), Michael Stonebraker, and Andy Palmer who developed it to help people find fun things to do on short notice. They did this because they are self-proclaimed adventure junkies and they wanted to build a site to help other people find great things to do as well, all in one well organized place. It hit the Apple app store in March 2010 and launched its iPad app in June of 2010. It then joined the Android Market in July of 2010 and now counts approximately one million (!) downloads since.
Firs and foremost, Goby is a search engine for finding places to go and things to do there. Every part of it is designed to fit that need, a singular focus on a niche that makes Goby a powerful alternative search engine. As a result, Goby exposes the shortcomings of Google when it comes to well-honed vertical searches. Sure, you can try to *make* Google tell you what’s on nearby, but Goby is designed from the ground up to do it better and do in on your mobile.
There is no tutorial within the app. but Goby doesn’t need one. As you can see for yourself (in the images below), Goby is menu driven and completely intuitive.
How does it work?
You simply select a category, a location, and a date(s), and hit search.
In like fashion the search results are also laid out so that you can easily select a destination and then all of the necessary ephemera flow neatly from it.
Add up these usability pluses to its clean design and free availability and it’s easy to see why Goby earned the pole position in my book.
Q&A with Mark Watkins, CEO:
Where does Goby get its data from?
Mark: Goby uses something called “Deep Web” technology to search carefully selected databases and other sources of information that are pre-qualified for relevance. Then Goby organizes your query results in a meaningful way.
How can I suggest a site for Goby?
Mark: We have a process for qualifying and introducing high-quality sites. Drop us a note at email@example.com and we’ll take a look. If it’s not a site we’ve already found and we end up using it, we’ll send you a Goby t-shirt to impress your friends!
Mark: The Fun Feed allows you to personalize the types of activities that are most interesting to you. When Goby comes across some new information it can alert you on your phone or by email.
Goby is available in the U.S. via the iTunes App Store and the Android market. What can you tell me about your roadmap and plans for markets beyond North America?
Mark: Goby has its sights on launching internationally just as soon as possible.
Mobile means search is not desktop search. It can be a new experience that is people-assisted, location-linked, or even pure app discovery. What directions are attractive to Goby and why?
Mark: Well, Goby is not just a vertical search engine. We are rapidly becoming a search, discovery, social and recommendation engine. I encourage all of your readers to try our new Fun Feed for personalized recommendations.
Tell me more about Goby going social…
Mark: Social media is a logical addition to the whole Goby experience. If you’re headed somewhere or at some place that Goby recommended, naturally you’ll want to tell your friends and maybe invite them to join you. By integrating social media like Facebook and Twitter, we just want to make it easier for you.
With the rise in smartphones, conditions are aligned for increased interest in, and usage of, mobile search, but how does Goby make money?
Mark: Goby is a search engine, and we make money the way most search engines do. We sell ad space on the site, and we will always clearly mark it as such. Also, some sites pay us if you click through to their site and buy something, but of course, there’s no pressure.
Goby road test
Naturally, I took Goby out for a spin myself!
I was truly a typical user, lost in a new city in need of a hotspot and some coffee. I gave Goby my location (it should be the default setting) and used the category system to select “coffee cafes.” Goby found two nearby. The first was a dud – but an accurate dud!
The second one was surreal. I spent 15 minutes looking for that coffee shop that “wasn’t there” according to the results. However, I knew different — or at least I thought I did. I got to the bottom of the mystery when I called the coffee shop. It turns out the owners were actually at the window (looking at me – the idiot) as I paced back and forth in front of the coffee shop I was looking for in the first place. The shop was there –but it had changed its name! Goby was right and I was close. I then recalled some low ratings that I had read for Goby’s results from users, and it all made sense.
Goby isn’t perfect because the world isn’t perfect. Shop names change, for example. Once Goby finds something fun for you to do, call ahead! You can bet it’s right on the mark, literally.
Overall, my Goby test drive got high marks. The results are extensive and straightforward.
I’m also impressed by the simple and effective branding. Goby has a great logo, a very attractive color scheme and the company sticks to it. (Personally, I would love to see a custom Goby case in blue with the ever-popular orange fish logo. It would give a real boost to word-of-mouth adoption of the app and maybe even start a movement (!). That said, I am also the type to very discreetly pay $.99 for the ad-free version.)
Where would I like to see Goby go next?
Well, when I open up my iPad, I want more. An iPad app should be more than a large iPhone app, at least in this case. At the very least, I want the Goby fish to swim or blow audible bubbles. I want an awesome splash page (see image). I want downloadable brochures because I couldn’t afford the 3G model. As Steve Jobs would say, I want “one more thing!”
Peggy adds: No doubt we will see more than that now that TeleNav has bought Goby, Charles. I expect the acquisition to produce services with more stickiness, a sharp focus on social and new emphasis on discovering fun stuff nearby — and recommending still more of the same. Add aware advertising and this is a model with a lot of mileage!
Next in the series: We go searching with a duck!
Editor’s note: The mission to discover and promote every alternative Internet search engine in the world took Charles three years and over 4,000 posts to accomplish. Now he’s back with his pick of mobile search apps, starting with iPhone and iPad apps and later moving to look at mobile search offers across other platforms and – ultimately – the mobile Web. If you have a mobile search app or service, or would like to suggest a company for this series, then please reach out to Charles (firstname.lastname@example.org).