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Whrrl Upgrades Personalization Engine To Fuel Discovery

How can you find a new restaurant, a well-curated boutique, or a artisanal cheese shop, if you never even knew it was there? Local search works well when people know what they’re looking for, but companies like Pelago, with its Whrrl application, are looking for alternative ways to enable those serendipitous discoveries.

The start-up company today released version two of its software, which can be accessed on the Web and via apps for iPhone, Android, and, with the new release, BlackBerry. Through a system of rewards and by encouraging social behavior, Whrrl enables people to check-in, make a list of things they want to do locally, and join affinity groups of people with similar interests.

“Our approach is grouping people together by interests, tastes and passions instead of being grouped together by explicit friending,” Jeff Holden, founder and CEO of Pelago said at the FM Signal:Austin conference. “This turns out to be very powerful.”

Once Whrrl has that information, its new recommendation engine uses it — and 25 different inputs in all — to proactively recommend “ideas,” or things to do, to its users.

“Seeing these patterns allows us to take the corpus of ideas and push them out to you,” Holden told me.

Before founding Pelago, Holden was senior vice president of consumer websites at Amazon.com, and says the concept for Whrrl partly originated from his work coming up with ways to recommend appropriate products to visitors to the e-commerce site.

It’s easy to find the one product you’re looking for on Amazon.com, he says, but what about the other 19,900,000 things you aren’t looking for — perhaps some of those would be interesting to you all the same.

This problem of helping people discover local experiences is being tackled in a variety of ways by a variety of players, including Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla, and even a week-old start-up that debuted at Signal:Austin, Ditto.

On Whrrl, marketers can get in on the action by founding and recruiting members for Whrrl “societies,” or affinity groups. Del Monte, for example, started the “I love my dog” society for Kibbles & Bits on Whrrl, and it rewards members with a chance to win a $25 coupon to spend on their dogs. Whrrl encourages participation in societies by allowing them to attain higher rankings for providing highly-rated recommendation. Those who hold higher ranks have better chances of winning contests like Del Monte’s.

So far, participation with Whrrl is rather light. The company has 500,000 registered users, and only a quarter of those folks engage with the application in any given week. Still, Holden maintains that the quality and engagement provided via the app provides significant value to marketers. Holden cites marketer Murphy USA, which offers gasoline stations and convenience stores in the Southeast and Midwest US. The company saw “a significant lift” in purchases after it launched a promotion with Whrrl, according to Holden.

To raise the profile of the application, and to hopefully gain tech early adopters, Whrrl is conducting a promotion in conjunction with the SXSW interactive conference, which starts tomorrow. When people check in to certain SXSW events and merchants, they can win prizes including two Audis and 50 trips to Las Vegas.

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