Who’s Down to Help Google Categorize How You Spend Your Time Offline?

"Who's Down", Google's new app aimed at college campuses wants to know what you're looking to do… where… and with whom.

Google has this crowdsourcing thing down pat. They know what the most important trends in the world are by their ability to index and categorize millions of searches per second. They know roughly how many people have the flu virus, where it is spreading, how fast, and how saturated regions are, all by tracking online search activity. In similar ways, they know which Halloween costumes are popular in your city and even playfully give you an idea of whether you’ll be the third “Why Tha F*** You Lyin'” guy at the party you’re headed to. I could provide many more examples of ways Google has been able to discern and track the important things happening in your offline life by crowdsourcing your online activity. Now, they dip their toe into the offline world again with their new app aimed at college students called “Who’s Down?”. Does it sound a tad bit innuendo-y? Absolutely. But, I assure you it’s not positioned merely as a Tinder offshoot.

On the app, students ask their peers who’s down to do… I don’t know, stuff. “Who’s down to go to Dumpling House at 8?” “Who’s down to watch the Celtics game at Professor Zhu’s house later?” Stuff like that. You can “like” propositions or comment that you’d be down. It’s like a scribbling your club’s guest speaker event on the side boards of Aldrich, but with this app, you at least have some idea of who might show.

Why does it matter? Well, Google gets information on which venues are great for viewing football games, which burger joints are open late AND crowd favorites, and which people are influencers in a community. Users of the app are happily crowdsourcing all of this information for Google. Google gets another source of information that leads to better placed ads and effective audience targeting.

Skeptics may mention that Google already tracks location data on Android phones and iPhones with Google Maps active. They could get the same information that way, right? Wrong. This app, SHOULD IT PROVE SUCCESSFUL AND SEE SIGNIFICANT ADOPTION, could provide the holy grail of crowd sourced advertising information… Context. People, places, times, relationships, dependencies, influencers, etc. All under the guise of a helpful app designed to let your friends know you want to hang out. Google is trying to get these conversations out of text messages and group chats, GroupMe and Whatsapp. They want to be the mediator, the connector. If “Who’s Down” takes off, it could be a huge factor in an advertiser’s willingness to pay.

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Student comments on Who’s Down to Help Google Categorize How You Spend Your Time Offline?

  1. I really enjoyed this post on Google’s latest app. While I agree with your assessment of the opportunity to add context to why people make decisions, I also think it’s a play to boost their social network presence. Most would consider Google Plus, their last social network attempt, a failure and Google has seen its advertising dollars flowing to Facebook. This meetup feature is something Facebook enables through their group boards, people post about events or meeting up to play basketball but the user experience is poor because those posts are mixed in with so many others. I like “Who’s Down” because it solves a specific problem for college students looking to meet up and gives Google a larger social network presence while simultaneously using the data to add context to how decisions are made.

  2. I’m down. But when I downloaded the app, it’s requiring an invite to use. Unless they’re doing small pilot tests right now, I think that model is a recipe for disaster, since a barrier to use right up front is going to limit the number of people (and thus, context) they can get. Crowdsourcing can’t work too well without a crowd, can it?

  3. Smart move from Google, tapping in to the young set of mind of socializing with many and multiple groups. Google needs to find more ways to push for usage and awareness for the app.

  4. Great post! I agree with you that tracking offline activity is the next frontier for information / advertising giants like Google. If they market this well and create a low-friction experience this would be very valuable data for Google. A combination of mail, calendar, apps like “Who’s Down”, and wearable technologies will paint the full picture of how consumers are spending their time and what they need…

  5. I love the Who’s Down idea. As someone who’s trying to get back into shape after gaining the MBA 15, I’ve been trying to find times and groups of people who would be interested in playing basketball at Shad, however it’s constantly proven difficult given current mechanisms (e.g., GroupMe).

    Scheduling activities/proposing activities in GroupMe or WhatsApp or group text is very difficult, primarily because there are so many other conversations going on that people (like myself) sometimes ignore/skip over, since they may not be relevant. Within those conversations, I occasionally find someone who says, “I want to do X, like this message if you’re interested.” Since the request to schedule something is so deep within a flood of other comments/conversations, I find it harder for people to engage and/or even see the request. If I can, instead send out an invite essentially to the crowd (e.g., all of HBS, avoiding the stigma associated with sending mass e-mails to the entire community), that would be awesome.

    Again, scheduling basketball games seems to be near-impossible during the week, even though I send messages to my entire Section at times or even the club basketball group. People are busy, I get that, but I’m almost certain that out of 1800+ MBAs, along with the hundreds of professors, etc., there should be at least 8-10 people who would be able to play basketball at 8 pm every single day if I wanted to. It’s just been hard to access that crowd. With an app like “Who’s down?” that would be much easier to do.

    I love the idea, and think that it certainly will be a winner. What I wonder (at least in the sports case) is whether or not a rating system may be involved (e.g., docking points/losing rating if someone shows up late/doesn’t show up, evaluating performance/skill, etc.). It doesn’t matter much to someone who just wants to run around, but it could be valuable for someone who wants to play more serious/competitive games.

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