Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Wajam’s Clever Workaround Inserts Its Content in iOS Apps

The social search service Wajam has figured out a hack to insert its content on Apple’s default apps.

Wajam overlays check-ins and posts from friends on Google Maps so searchers can see them in context.

With Wajam installed on iOS, users will be able to see their friends’ location-tagged Facebook and Twitter status when they search on Google Maps, and will have a new Google search tab in Safari dedicated to content from friends.

Huhwhat? How is Wajam inserting itself into other iOS apps — much less Apple’s precious default apps?

Well, the company is basically asking users to configure their systems so Wajam is a proxy for all their Internet traffic.

(Users can get instructions on how to set up Wajam as a “Profile” by going to Wajam.com from their iPhones. There’s no Wajam app; this is deep in the phone settings.)

This is not a totally new trick. The popular Onavo app, which compresses data so users can save and monitor it, also makes use of the profile configuration. And browsers like Opera and UC Browser also function by using proxies. But it’s somewhat novel for overlaying content onto existing apps.

You can also see that Wajam doesn’t have this down flawlessly — in Google Maps, above, each Wajam result is labeled as a “sponsored link” rather than a regular location pin.

Wajam is installed — by those who dare! — as an iOS settings profile, so that Internet activity can be scanned for relevant friend results.

But Wajam for iPhone is almost more of a demo of what could be than a tool many people will feel comfortable using.

“If Facebook, Google and Apple were friends, you would probably have the best phone out there, and the best possible experience, and we’re trying to show what that could look like,” Wajam CEO Martin-Luc Archambault said in an interview this week.

Montreal-based Wajam has historically made a browser plugin that overlays social search results onto users’ regular searches. Social search is one of the most contentious areas of the Web, because of all the competitive animosity between Google, Facebook, Twitter and anyone else who gets big.

Life as a browser plugin is tricky because, by design, Wajam messes with users’ existing interfaces. The advantage is, once they have Wajam installed, they can go about their regular business on Web sites like Google and Amazon, and see Facebook, Twitter and Google+ posts from their friends.

This “Friends” tab in Google on Safari for iOS is inserted by Wajam.

This is exactly what Wajam is trying to do on iOS — first for Safari and Google Maps, later for Apple’s own maps in iOS 6 and all sorts of other third-party apps.

Archambault maintains that Wajam won’t slow down users’ phone experiences, because he is relying on super-speedy Amazon infrastructure, and that everything will be private, because Wajam is TRUSTe certified. It remains to be seen how Apple reacts to the hack, given it could be abused.

Archambault would like to insert Wajam social search results onto apps from services like TripAdvisor, for example. This would be smarter than TripAdvisor’s existing social integration with Facebook, he said, because it is more extensive and uses techniques like natural language processing to find tweeted locations.

“Our goal is not to break the user’s experience,” Archambault¬†said. (Well, that’s a good starting point!)

He added that if overlays within apps become too annoying, Wajam could potentially listen for relevant searches and send push notifications rather than injecting information into an app.

This Wajam-produced video shows what social results look like on the iPhone:


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