Someone at Google has a good eye for cool apps. The company Clever Sense barely got its fascinating recommendation app Alfred out the door before Google came a-knocking to acquire the company, the two parties announced yesterday.
Alfred is a recommendations app that is based on what the company calls a Serendipity Engine. It not only reads your location and other people’s ratings of nearby eateries and night spots -- it also layers onto this your own interests as shown through interactivity on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. In other words, the app defines context not only by location but by the person in that location. Indeed, get ready for the mobile keyword of 2012: CONTEXT.
When you first start Alfred, it initiates a contextually aware teaching session asking you to declare some favorite local spots for different meals. It has an extensive database of local spots, so it prompts you with suggestions. It will even note when you have tagged a place in Facebook and then prompt you later to ask for a rating. In other words, the app is intelligently and courteously following your tastes and interests to build a profile that informs its suggestions. It does so in a way that succeeds in avoiding the creepy factor because it is always clear about what it is doing: refining the value of the app for your benefit.
The interface is fun, with the Alfred character taking the form of a mustachioed hotel bellhop bell, and the results are among the best designs I have seen in a local recommendations app. Click into one of the suggestions and you get a tabbed selection of menus, recent tweets and posts with meal suggestions and warnings and any photos the app finds. The app even makes the recommendation system more transparent by giving you a percentage likelihood that its suggestion matches your tastes -- and an explanation for why it thinks you will like this.
This is where a next key battleground will be in 2012. The critical differentiator will be how we define “context” in terms not only of what resources are in an area -- but who is searching, in what mode, at what time of day, and even what other events occurred in their everyday lives. Everyone will be looking to craft what I would call the valet effect: mobile functionality that anticipates wants and needs.