Is Jybe the recommendation app Yelp should be?

Built by longtime Web search veterans, the new iPhone app is built around pointing users to things--meals, movies, books, and more--that are highly tailored to their interests.

A look at the recommendations for local restaurants made by Jybe, a new iPhone app. The service makes suggestions based on users' personal tastes, as well as those of their friends. Screenshot by CNET

If you ask a friend where to eat or for their favorite dish at a specific restaurant, you'll probably give their suggestion a lot more weight than an automatically generated one, especially if that friend knows your tastes in food.

That's the basic premise behind Jybe, a brand-new iPhone app that launched today. Built by a small team led by three longtime search industry veterans, the app is designed to give users highly relevant suggestions for restaurants--including specific dishes--as well as movies, books, and other things.

These days, there's plenty of ways to get recommendations and reviews on the iPhone. But Jybe is hoping to distinguish itself with a system that offers up suggestions tied to users' personal tastes--and with special emphasis on actual recommendations by their friends. In a sense, it's trying to be what a lot of people probably would like Yelp to be.

Many apps that rely on a lot of users' input before they can offer good information run up against a chicken-and-egg problem: without a critical mass of users, there's not enough information to attract new ones.

With that in mind, Jybe asks its users to check off specific types of food, movies, or books they like before using the app the first time. That process takes just seconds, so it's unlikely to annoy most new users. And that information is key to the app's ability to make at least some informed recommendations the first time a user tries it out. After that, the more feedback a user gives about the recommendations, the more the engine learns about their tastes, and the better it is designed to be in the future at making suggestions.

Still, especially in the early days of the app, people outside of cities like San Francisco or New York are unlikely to find local matches for restaurants or movies based on feedback from other users. But because Jybe can also pull additional information about users' tastes by looking at their social media behavior, many people will want to log in with their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

The app will also suggest specific dishes at nearby restaurants. Screenshot by CNET

In practice, the app has a ways to go before being indispensable. Testing it out over the weekend, I found that it proposed both restaurants in my neighborhood and others that were easily a half-hour's drive (with a $6 bridge toll to boot) away. At the same time, it said I should try out specific dishes from places like Subway or Chevy's that I am unlikely to ever want to eat.

Yet, on the whole, the recommendations were at least as helpful as those I am used to finding on Yelp, especially when I added filters for specific cuisines. And one of the app's key features is that it can settle on personalized recommendations regardless of where the user is--simply by matching up peoples' known tastes against information drawn from a wide variety of Web-based sources.

All-in-one
Another of Jybe's value propositions is that it can help users limit the number of apps they have to run in order to go all the way through the process of, say, making a restaurant reservation, or buying movie tickets.

As a result, whenever possible, Jybe allows users to complete transactions like that from within the app. It also lets them look at menus, movie listings, book reviews, Netflix availability, and much more, all without having to run another app.

This could be incredibly useful--if Jybe's recommendations prove accurate over time. I can easily see focusing strictly on Jybe instead of using Yelp, Flickster, Amazon.com, and others if I know that I can not only find a good recommendation but act on it as well.

On the other hand, it all starts with the recommendations. If people find them too general, or inaccurate, they'll simply stop using Jybe and all the in-app functionality in the world won't mean a thing.

But Jybe is a good idea. Consolidating a number of different tasks in one well-rounded app is something that could easily be very attractive, and if the team behind the app can execute, and continue to add new categories of things to recommend (such as museums, hotels, travel destinations, and the like) it could become many people's one-stop shop of choice.

 

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