Meeting Dopplr’s co-founder Marko Ahtisaari

Heard about this event at the last minute from Thomas Crampton.

I like to travel, or better yet, I love to live in different places. So when I heard about Dopplr a few years ago, I immediately signed up, but as with a lot of the recent web 2.0 social sharing sites, I don’t do much with them after the sign up. The problem with Dopplr for me was that I simply don’t travel enough.

Still, I like traveling and so, I couldn’t give up the chance to meet one of Dopplr’s co-founders, Mr. Marko Ahtisaari yesterday. I’m glad I went! Marko is a great guy and after hearing him talk about Dopplr, I can tell Dopplr is different from other mindless social copy cat sites.

What Dopplr boils down to is “Declaring travel intention, and shows coincidences“. They find value in user generated data, not content. Since it’s personal information about future plans, they are very careful with privacy and creates a layer of “fuzziness” between your data and the anonymous web. I liked how he’s very clear about Dopplr strategic position and holds a high moral value with the privacy issues so they would rather forgo higher profits for our privacy, this makes them the opposite of the greedy “sell your DNA and copy all the good ideas from other social sites” Facebook.

I also like the way he’s handling the eco thing. On Dopplr, one of your navigation tabs is “Your carbon”, and if you allow it, Dopplr will send your travel data (anonymously) to AMEE to calculate your travel’s carbon footprint. Well, I’m all about being eco-friendly and minimalist and shit, so I asked him whether or not he’s trying to push this eco thing as a main selling point on Dopplr, or is it sort of an added value kind of thing.

I already knew the answer but it was still nice to hear Marko explains it. Eco friendliness is not a key point, they don’t provide the means to help travelers be green, but they do provide the data to make people be mindful of their impact. I think that’s the right way to do it. I’ve also been trying to create an “eco-friendly restaurant listings” type of site, but I realize that I have to find a bigger draw so that the service itself can become popular… and my “eco-friendly” agenda will be sneaked in there to shape people’s habits.

Another topic was the validity of the data, Dopplr is only a small team of 7, it’s impossible to check everybody’s submission onto the system. But there are basic algorithm and moderation to check things, e.g. Places are not listed publicly until a few comments have been made by others.

Then, we move on to the future of Dopplr, they had actually just submitted their iPhone app yesterday, it’ll be free and usable by non registered users as a city guide. Their plan is to concentrate on people and create a social atlas. One of the products that they’re trying to roll out is a printed guide. Dopplr online is a highly personalized social experience, but the print guides are compiled using anonymous aggregate of travelers, e.g. Where do Londoners eat in NY? I think Marko realizes that the guide isn’t good enough in this form, so he added a personal touch to it – highlighting one place and one person’s choices.

Some people asked Marko what his Dopplr guide has to offer that other traditional guide books don’t, and Marko said “Fresh data”, but I think the problem is deeper than that! Personally, I think a guide about a place based on other travellers’ recommendation, is NOT a good guide. When I travel, I would much rather listen to the local’s recommendations. Who cares if Steve Jobs ate at this restaurant in Paris, WTF does he know? And I was right. Marko said they actually have “hosts” and “travelers” roles, and there is algorithm to weight hosts’ recommendation heavier than travelers.

Marko went on to talk about allowing us to create a personalized “My Place” guide, so when our friends come to visit and ask us where should they go, we can just give them our guides! This is the BEST idea!! It encourages users to submit data about their local town / city! AND, based on our local recommendations, Dopplr can create more personalized foreign guides for each of us!!!

Some people asked for features to import their personal recommendations from other services like Google Maps or Calendars, but here we have a big “ETL” type of problem (Extract, Transform, Load), ‘coz everybody does it differently.

Finally, Marko talked about B2B deals with big travel corporations like the Star Alliance, who can really use Dopplr’s “future travel intent” data. And they are trying to go mobile but not doing it like most other location aware mobile apps ‘coz he thinks most people already have the intention to go to a specific place.

All in all, it was a great talk. Marko was very open about everything, the only thing is, I got this feeling that they’re still not very certain on how to evolve Dopplr. Personally, I think that B2B deal is closer to their core ideology than the paper guide thing… unless the guides are personalized like I said above, using our local recommendations. But Marko said they can’t do it right now. ‘Coz once we go down the personalization road, it’s un-ending. Well, I think they WILL do it, may be they’re just lacking in human resources right now. 🙂

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Just another guy trying to beat the system and be released from the Matrix http://about.me/nicholaswang

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2 comments on “Meeting Dopplr’s co-founder Marko Ahtisaari
  1. John Britton says:

    Sounds awesome, I really love Dopplr. I just wish it would allow me to be more nomadic. It doesn’t let me change my living location as part of my plan so it thinks all of my trips are from my ‘home’ which is hard for me to define.

    • cloneofsnake says:

      Well, I agree… but talking with Marko, you’ll realize that “Future Travel Intentions” is their main point. Dopplr knows where u are NOW so u have to log in from different places for Dopplr to know where you traveled to and from, and the value of their data is “in the future”. But I know what you mean, why does it allow us to “add past trips” but doesn’t give us a choice to pick where we traveled from?!

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