Mike Isaac

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Plumfare Aims for Foodies With Social Gifting App

Aside from getting users to care about them, location-based mobile apps have a big problem: Helping people actually discover new places.

The boldest initiative in this area thus far comes from Foursquare, one of the largest apps in the space. The 20-million-strong check-in app has pivoted to become a discovery platform, pulling customers into nearby businesses with its latest paid notification tool, Promoted Updates.

Plumfare, the latest local discovery app focused on food and restaurants, aims to take a different approach. Essentially a social gifting application, Plumfare prompts you to take pictures of whatever you’re eating when out and about, and to suggest those items to friends. From there, you’re able to gift those items to your friends via SMS, email or Facebook. You pay only if your friend redeems the item, and Plumfare makes its money by taking a 15 percent cut.

It’s good for the customers, Plumfare tells me, because, unlike a gift card, there’s no money changing hands unless the customer actually uses your gift. And it’s good for businesses in terms of customer acquisition; it’s all food-and-drink based, so, unlike other gifting services, you’re actually required to go into the store to get your gift.

In all of this, perhaps the most interesting part is the data angle. To make it possible for users to browse gifting options, Plumfare is collecting menus from hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the Web. Currently, the company has data from more than 250,000 menus in its database.

Eventually, I’m told, the play is to use the data collected through users’ gifting choices to offer up better food-and-drink suggestions to people. Monitor people’s actions and choices, and you’re able to better drill down on individual items rather than just the places they’d want to visit.

Plumfare is sticking to restaurants only. The retail space is rife with competitors like Wrapp, Gyft and others working on different customer-acquisition models. With the wealth of open menu data available, Plumfare says the food-and-beverage play makes the most sense.

Now it’s about getting that critical user data. That means fighting for a robust user base, which takes time and promotional effort. And the jury is still out on whether a free beer or appetizer is enough to bring in more customer conversions to restaurants. We’ll see if the app can gain the traction needed to really get its data collection efforts off the ground.

The Plumfare app is live in Apple’s App Store today, free for download.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald