called What Spot Now launched today and aims to answer that question with a
combination of blurred webcam photos taken every 30 seconds and automatic deals
pushed to users when participating venues are low on customers. The company is
launching with 15 bars and restaurants in food- and microbrew-capital city Portland,
Oregon. "You can see what places are like before going there," the company tells
would-be users. Non-iPhone owners can visit m.whatspotnow.com to use the service.
I've got to confess -
I heard about this app months ago and thought it sounded
absurd, offensive, creepy and pointless. Now that it's live, though, I'm impressed.
There may not be a discount offered at the moment, but I may need to run down to the
coffee and Wi-Fi spot BackSpace - the tables near the outlets are all open and
available right now!
Above: Someone just snuck into one of the tables at BackSpace, but at least the ones
closest to the power strip are still empty. It looks very quiet there right now.
Mike Rogoway profiled the startup in depth today in Portland's Oregonian. He
reports that the company blurs the photos so faces aren't identifiable, then
automatically pushes discounts to users if the software detects the venue is slow at
a time its owner wants it not to be.
The faces really are unrecognizable and that
goes a long way in making this app more useful than creepy.
Unlike mega-discounter Groupon, which sometimes leaves retailers begging for mercy
under an avalanche of discounts, What Spot Now turns off discount offers
automatically once its cameras detect that a venue has more patrons.
When a venue offers a discount, the user is shown a "scratch-off"
and warned not to scratch it off until they are at the venue itself. The code
expires five minutes after being revealed.
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