Liz Gannes

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Former Google Social Lead Launches Ditto Discovery App

Ditto, an iPhone app and new company to help users get quick recommendations about restaurants and movies, launches today.

The app is notable because it was created by Jyri Engeström, who previously founded Jaiku, a Twitter competitor that Google bought in 2007. Engeström was then Google’s “head of social,” but left dissatisfied in 2009. Pieces of the never-released product he’d been developing at Google showed up in Google Buzz, Profiles and Latitude, according to Engeström.

Engeström, a sociologist by training, said the rise of the mobile touchscreen was part of what brought him back to the game, because he thinks he can create a meaningful and fun experience without requiring users to do much typing.

Ditto users press big colorful buttons to indicate what they want to do–for instance, eat out. Then a user receives recommendations for nearby restaurants directly from friends but also from processing friends’ historical check-in data. That seems similar to Foursquare, but Engeström said it’s more useful, because users turn to Ditto before they make a decision about where to go or what to do. In that way, it’s a bit more like a social Q&A service.

The current Ditto app also supports movie recommendations, and will add other categories like books and music, with the idea that a user could consume recommended content directly on the phone from Netflix, Spotify or Kindle. Engeström also said the company will develop for Android next.

This horizontal approach to discovery will likely be hard to pull off, because users with app-filled smartphones aren’t sitting around waiting for the perfect all-purpose social recommendations app.

So if attracting users does prove to be hard, would Engeström sell out, given his negative experience with Google? What about in the context of Beluga, the group messaging app that already sold out to Facebook this week, before its inevitable larger competitor had even launched anything like it?

Engeström said one advantage he has over Beluga (whose founders worked for and with him at Google) is that recommendations are monetizable through advertising and affiliate relationships–whereas SMS costs money and doesn’t have an obvious business model. He also attested that Ditto has already had acquisition inquiries before it even launched.

Ditto has raised $775,000 from Betaworks and True Ventures, and has a team of three based in San Francisco.

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