Whrrl Reinvents Itself with '2.0' Launch

Mobile-social network Whrrl was essentially a reinvention of Yelp with location awareness on the mobile handset. There was a PC site as well but the company's focus was on mobile. On Friday Pelago (Whrrl's developer-parent) relaunched the site with a new look, new positioning and a new iPhone app. 

The map is no longer the central metaphor for the site, although location is still a central element of the experience. Finding things to do and places to go is no longer the site's reason for being. Instead the emphasis now is on telling stories: Twitter-like missives combined with images.

Whrrl PC

VentureBeat and CNET have largely positive reviews of the changes and the new app. But another view might be that Whrrl's shift and repositioning were compelled by necessity and the idea that as a mobile-social/LBS site there were too many competitors already and the company wasn't getting adoption. That's got to be partly the case. 

Whrrl iphone

But here's what CEO Jeff Holden said on the company's blog about the changes:

Whrrl was a very worthy experiment, but we learned a couple of important things that led us to conclude we should build a different product.

First, people don’t really like writing reviews very much. Only a very small percentage of users actually wanted to take the time to write a review. When we talked to our users, they told us that reviews are too impersonal and they’re just not very engaging. They told us that what they really wanted to share was their stories. The second big learning was that gratification in Whrrl came too slowly — before a new user would start seeing social discovery benefit, they had to contribute quite a bit. This really had its root in the first point: since sharing reviews wasn’t very motivating for people, they needed a greater reward to do it. And truly getting to the discovery benefit was a bridge too far.

I'm sure Holden is accurately representing what Whrrl's users said. Yet, while it's true that only a small percentage (<10%) of people write reviews, more established sites like Yelp contradict Holden's generalization. GoodRec, a mobile-centric ratings site, also said that it's seeing 50% of its reviews coming from mobile (mostly the iPhone). It's likely that Whrrl as it was constituted before the change didn't give users enough of a reason to use the site (vs. more established competitors). 

The redesign and repositioning may turn out to be a great move and help the site really take off. But that remains to be seen.

The new site effectively abandons the idea that it's creating an independent network and seeks to leverage Facebook and Twitter directly, although that has been true for a few months. It also seeks to leverage the "culture of updates" that Twitter created and that Facebook is also seeking to capitalize on.

The new site is no longer like Yelp or Citysearch or other local review sites. But now that Whrrl has become more like Twitter, the question is: is there enough here that's different to motivate people to use it?