Sosh takes its recommendation technology to Seattle, more to follow

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on February 11, 2014

From The News Desk

What's going on this weekend? Whether you've been in a city for ages, or just moved, that always seems to be the question at hand come Thursday afternoon. Invariably it's always useful to know what trending events are going on, or what spots are getting buzz. Or, for me, what dive bar have I not been to.

Sosh, a San Francisco-based app, thinks it has a different approach to tackle this conundrum. Until today it has been helping San Franciscans and New Yorkers keep up with the trends, and today it's beginning a bigger expansion -- with Seattle being the first stop.

Sosh's app doesn't rely on crowdsourced user reviews of places nearby, which is pretty much what every other recommendation engine does. Instead, it wants to figure out what the actual coolest thing is, using prestigious reviews and inside knowledge of what the best parts of each city are. And it's for any kind of place or event, be it a restaurant, show, yoga class, or even a new cheap bar. As Erin Griffith explained it last year:

Anyone can send push notifications that tell you when you’re near a Starbucks. Sosh rejected that, purposely modeling its recommendations off of human behavior. So it's less about what’s the closest nearby, and more about what is cool about a place, in the way that you’d explain it to a friend. For that, it pulls in expert commentary from magazines and websites.
Today will begin the test to see if Sosh's model works in any city. The company says that one in every six 21-to-40-year-old uses the app in the Bay Area. And, according to the company's CEO Rishi Mandal, New York's usage isn't too far behind San Francisco, with one in fifteen Manhattan adults using the app.

Seattle is going to be the real test about whether the app's method is applicable to smaller, less saturated cities. "The reason we chose Seattle was to give ourselves another look," Mandal said. "We wanted to do one that didn't look the ones we had already done."

Seattle, then, would be the perfect choice for cities that have a different vibe than the Bay or New York. I can speak to this as a former Portland resident. Without a doubt Seattle has numerous recommendation possibilities for its residents. But its 634,000 person population is much smaller than San Francisco's 825,000 and New York's gargantuan 8.3 million. And many Seattleites are markedly different from those who reside in big cities, and thus have different interests than those in the Bay or New York. Quite often that is why people decide to move to  smaller, more niche-oriented cities.

Mandal saw the New York trial as a way to understand how to fine-tune each new Sosh program. It "basically codified what we do city to city." He used the example that 40 percent of San Francisco residents use public transportation, whereas in New York that statistic is at 70 percent. With different travel patterns come different social ones too. Mandal viewed 2013 as an educational experience of what can easily be tweaked to get a "real pulse" for what's going on in each city.

The company is fresh off of raising $10.1 million, and is using this financial injection to propel the expansion. Following Seattle we should be seeing more cities, such as Chicago, in the not-too-distant future.

What's interesting is that with each expansion doesn't come a brand new team to scout out and understand the intricacies of each new environment. Instead, the company hires one human -- whom it calls a "curator" -- to "shepherd things," as Mandal put it. These curators find out what sources to trust, what parts of town seem interesting, and put those data points into Sosh's algorithm. And that supposedly makes a good, tailored app for each city. So while it may sound like an endeavor to find all the cool and exciting things happening in a certain locale, Sosh believes it has figured out the way to do it without relying on hundreds of paid and unpaid reviews.

"We're based on technology, not on humans curating things," he said. "That helps us to scale."