Instagram has a remarkable way of letting you know exactly what you’re missing. But a new app called Now aims to turn Instagram’s data into a key for social access rather than a way to breed loneliness, by parsing activity at locations with a heavy volume of Instagram uploads to figure out "where the party’s at," as Nelly puts it. For example, if 100 photos are suddenly Instagrammed at a bar near you where a popular DJ is spinning, Now lets you know it might be a place to go have a good time.
"Think of it as a free, live city guide," Now’s creators write on its website. "Most discovery apps focus on venues and show old and out-dated tips. Now shows you places through the experiences happening there."
Browsing Now near my house in Los Angeles, I can see several concerts and a roller derby that I’m already too late for. I can search for events by category, like food, art, or concerts. I can also figure out which neighborhood restaurants are crowded with Instagram users—in my neighborhood, an incredible taqueria that just opened. If I was, say, throwing a birthday party at a local bar, I could create a new "experience" on Now’s map and curate a mini photo album by grabbing my favorite pics of the event from Instagram and contributing my own. If I was a concert promoter and was eager to get a crowd to my party, I could organize all the Instagram photos at the venue into an "experience" to serve as an advertisement for that show. Locations with lots of photos will end up at the top of users feeds.
The app just opened up to users around the world in November, and like any app that depends on crowdsourcing, it won’t get exciting until there’s a critical mass using it in your city. But it does present an interesting approach to making Instagram data more useful, particularly when people naturally use that app to document events, even though hashtags are currently the only way to tie event photos together. If more people were using Now, a city’s nightlife offerings would unfold like a menu of possibilities before you left your house. There would be no excuse to get stuck at home, experiencing the evening’s events vicariously through social media.