Intimate City, a new Israeli app, aims to enhance the experience of a city for visitors and local residents alike with a parsing algorithm to deliver useful information to users coupled with enhanced privacy features that could become an important element in apps that go beyond the travel space. Just as on Silicon Valley, a new TV show on HBO, the pair behind the app may be sitting on an innovation so big that it could make their start-up very attractive to other companies in the social networking business.
“We created something new,” said Long Island native Becca Feinstein, who created Intimate City with Joseph Sibony, a Guatemalan national. “Intimate City redefines travel and how we share our travel experiences, allowing users to be as active as they choose while maintaining the ability to keep their lives personal and intimate.” The app was released in April for iOS and Android and already has several thousand users around the world, Feinstein said.
The Intimate City story is one of modern Zionism, combining aliyah with high-tech, said Feinstein. “Joseph and I met on the Jewish Agency’s Masa Israel program several years ago and realized we were both interested in tech. Afterwards we came to live in Israel with the idea of going into the tech business, and we came up with Intimate City.”
The app allows users to share their experiences in a locale with friends on the network, presenting them with a video and photo montage of their trip. Recipients can view the images and videos, called a “postcard” in Intimate City lingo, and comment or ask questions about specific aspects of the trip. The answer will be parsed from answers and comments made by other users, but only the relevant information will be presented.
The ability to instantly parse data generated by Intimate City users and see only the information requested, called the Request for Information (RFI) function, could be used in a number of data parsing apps. This search on a social network algorithm, said Sibony, lets members pose questions to anyone else using the application. Individual users around the world can ask or answer questions about any restaurant, hiking path, cultural event or even dry cleaner in any country, city or neighborhood. “But you only get the relevant information that is applicable to your location,” said Sibony, so there is no time wasted sorting through irrelevant information.
Both travelers and locals could make use of this function, said Feinstein. “Each and every city has its own charm and mystique built on hidden cafes, classic tourist destinations, booming nightclub scenes or quiet neighborhood enclaves. The best way to learn about a city and its individual character is to gain knowledge and inspiration from those who have already discovered it.” He directed that statement at visitors as well as people who live in the city but haven’t discovered all its charms because, unlike tourists, they are too busy working or going to school to really get to know their town.
“This is different than Facebook, which is passive, meaning that you see what your friends post and comment on it, or directly ask them about it,” said Feinstein. “With Intimate City, you can interact with the data, asking questions and getting the information that will help you plan your trip, or enhance your experience in the place where you live by revealing hidden spots that will make your life more pleasant.”
Tech Zionism, helping people discover their home towns and developing a query system for a social network are all nice, but Intimate City’s potential game-changer is in how it presents information. Users can choose to share their photos and videos with the world, with their friends, or just with specific people. Privacy tools and settings provided by other social networks are confusing and not always effective — Facebook itself admits this. With Intimate City, sharing with a group, or just one person, is built into the interface. Click on the photo or video in your online library, add the name of who you want to share it with and that’s all. Unless the person you shared your photo with consciously shares it with others, there is no way anyone else can view it.
Intimate City’s clean and easy privacy setting is something that she and Sibony are very proud of. “Especially when we are on vacation, we all like to let our guard down and enjoy moments that we wouldn’t all want our bosses and parents to see on Facebook or Instagram,” said Feinstein. “Intimate City allows users to share these special memories as widely or closely as they want, while learning and sharing their experiences with other travelers.”
Intimate City’s privacy mechanism could be attractive to investors on its own, similar to the compression algorithm in Pied Piper, the fictional “consumer facing” application that is the focus of HBO’s new docu-comedy Silicon Valley. On the show, a developer slaving away at a Google/Facebook tech company creates an application that examines a piece of music to see if it was plagiarized. What he doesn’t realize is that the application has a “killer” compression algorithm that allows it to download music faster than anything else on the market. The algorithm instantly gets attention from investors and becomes the target of others who try to reverse engineer it and get the glory and money associated with a game-changing technology for themselves.
If Intimate City were to draw investor interest, Feinstein and Sibony would be thrilled. For now, they are working on producing the best travel app they can. “Our motto is ‘around the corner, around the world’ — with Intimate City it’s the same for both travelers and residents,” said Feinstein, “We’re very proud of all the new features of this app and we think users are going to embrace it.”