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Review: Whrrl

August 15, 2008
Overview Whrrl is a dynamic LBS (location based service) app that is designed to help keep you and your friends updated with each other's whereabouts. It has a full-featured and attractive website that complements the app. You'll want to download it today and tell everyone where in the Whrrl-d you are!


You will need to sign in and create an account initially. After that, Whrrl will ask if it can use your current location. Obviously, you'll want to say yes, but if not, you can be content with looking around someone else's city with complete strangers' input. Or not. The first screen that Whrrl will show you is one that has a location button in the top left, two tabs - "Map" and "List" and a search button in the top right. Across the bottom, you'll see two more tabs - "Explore" and "Friends." As the map finds you, it will pull up a bunch of small icons - upside down houses looking thingies. Each of those represents a place or business on the map. Touching one of those icons pulls up an interactive screen related to that location. You can rate it, tell folks you're "here," write a review, etc. If you're there, snap a pic of that location on your phone and then upload it to the website when you get back. That way, there will be an ongoing pictorial directory of your favorite places. The other buttons...
    1. Map - You can scroll around on the map, and locations will change, bringing up new places to look at. Once you find a place on the map you like, you can click on list, and it will bring up a list of locations for that particular area of the map. 2. List - In list view, you'll have a scroll down (depending on how many places there are near the map selection) that you can navigate through. You'll be able to see the ratings of each place, given to it by users and friends. By clicking on the location, you'll be back at the interactive screen for that location mentioned above. One amazing thing about Whrrl is that it already has dozens of local locations listed for you. Other apps require you to input your own. At present, however, Whrrl does not do private or personal locations such as residences. You can input your address on the website or iPhone, and it will locate you there, but you won't ever see an icon for your home on the map. 3. Location Screen - Here is where all the interaction takes place for locations. In the image above, you can see Wal-Mart's interactive screen. We have a saying in south Arkansas, "If Wal-Mart ain't got it, you don't need it." And yet, to date, it's only been given a three-star rating. Go figure. You can see five other tab possibilities here, demonstrating the power of the Whrrl app. They are:
Facts - This window will show you the location's information like phone number and address. It's the default window for the location. Opinions - This gives you the option to rate the location on a 5-star system as well as add a brief review of it by clicking "Add Your Opinion." I'm Here/I'm Not Here - This is where you tell your friends/followers where you are. The website keeps track of all the places you've been, and it's pretty fun to go there and check things out after playing around with Whrrl for a while. Want to Go Been There/Haven't Been There - depending on your selection.
    4. Explore - This takes you back to the map window and allows you to scroll around looking for new places. 5. Friends - Pulls up a list of your friends, their most recent update. By clicking on a friend, it will pull up their profile and a feed of their locations and ratings. Inside this window, there will be the infamous blue side triangle (which on the iPhone means "more") beside each location update. Clicking on the arrow will pull up the info screen about that location.


Whrrl is a pretty amazing little app - I'll say that right off the bat. Conceptually, I think it's head and shoulders above some of the other LBS apps out there right now. When it's working, it works smoothly, and it's fun. However, that being said, I have had repeated problems with Whrrl. I've had to delete it and reinstall it from iTunes on a number of occasions after sluggish performance and repeated crashes. One caveat to Whrrl - iPhone 2.0 firmware (including 2.01) is as buggy as your grandmother's attic. So I can't really tell if the performance issues are related to the app or to the iPhone firmware. I'd be interested in some feedback about this. The complementary website is dangerous. I'm warning you ahead of time. It's a time waster. So graphically appealing and downright addictive. If you and a group of friends began using Whrrl regularly, you'd probably consider making it your homescreen. I sometimes wonder if the whole LBS social website movement isn't our attempt at being omniscient or omnipresent. At one glance, you can see where everyone is and what they're currently doing (if they update regularly). Aside from the bugginess and occasional sluggishness, I would highly recommend you try out Whrrl. Another contender - but with far less features - is Loopt (our full review is HERE). One thing Loopt had going for it that Whrrl didn't in previous versions, is the ability to connect your location updates with other social websites like Twitter and Facebook. In fact, that was the most significant lacking feature of Whrrl, given that otherwise it was amazingly comprehensive. With the latest update of the app (1.0.2), however, you can now link Whrrl to your Twitter account. Yet, an RSS feed that you can use for your own updates is still lacking. In addition, most social websites don't even list or recognize Whrrl as an option to import from which to import updates. One glaring annoyance is that if you put your cell phone number into the website on your profile, there is no way to hide it from viewers. That definitely needs to be changed.


I think even Carmen Sandiego would enjoy using this app. "Where in the Whrrl-d is...?" If you're that into letting people know where you are, or if you simply would like to know if a local restaurant is any good, log into Whrrl and peruse the reviews by friends and other users. I think it's the front runner of LBS apps at present.

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