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Schemer: hands-on with Google's activity recommendation service

Schemer: hands-on with Google's activity recommendation service

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You might have missed it when it first launched in beta back in December, but Google+ isn't the only social network the Mountain View-based search company has — there's also Schemer, a web and Android-based service (an iOS version is on the way) that's most appropriately described as an activity finder.

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Schemer Android
Schemer Android

You might have missed it when it first launched in beta back in December, but Google+ isn't the only social network the Mountain View-based search company has — there's also Schemer, a web and Android-based service (an iOS version is on the way) that's most appropriately described as an activity finder. Google has opened up Schemer to the masses this past week, and we've taken the opportunity to take the scheme-finding service for a quick spin, so read on for our first impressions.


Schemer is incredibly simple. If you've ever spent time with Foursquare, you'll immediately be reminded of that social network's tips and to-dos when you try out Schemer. Of course, they're not called "tips" on this Google service, they're "schemes," but the idea is the same. Users post recommended activities (usually connected to locations), and everyone can either mark things down as something they want to do or something that they've done. Schemer claims to have taken this to another level, however, with schemes that are recommended based on current weather conditions (e.g. if it's raining maybe you'd like to bowl instead of walking through the park), time of day (Saturday morning brunch, anyone?), friends' activities, and often-visited categories.

For Schemer to thrive, users need to come up with some good schemes

As you'd expect, the whole system — no matter how good the recommendations are — is completely dependent on how funny, inventive, and unique the schemes that users post are. After spending a bit of time with Schemer, there seems to be a fairly large variety of schemes available to pick and choose from. The "Find Stuff to Do" interface on both the website and Android app lets you select activities that are either nearby or are things that you can accomplish if stuck inside for the day. There are also over 20 categories that you can choose from ranging from DIY to beer to vacations to photography. Many of the recommendations here in New York are simple touristy activities in the realm of "go here," but the hope is that more schemes that are actually devious and ingenious will pop up. To help out with that, Schemer has got a fairly impressive list of partners including Time Out, Bravo, Travel Channel, IGN, Rolling Stone, NPR, National Geographic, and more (as well as ideas from the Schemer team itself) to help liven up the offerings.

In terms of the interface itself, it's unfortunately a bit barebones. Scheme pages themselves only offer a title (e.g. "Go to the top of the Empire State Building") and a list of comments. If you're lucky the author of the scheme will have elaborated a bit in one of those comments. There's also a spot for photo uploads and you can mark down a location. We can't help but think that if this interface encouraged more details the schemes themselves might be a bit richer.

Schemer doesn't compete with Google+ at all — in fact, it integrates with it and a Google+ account is required to use the service. Thankfully, this means that people in your circles are automatically brought into your Schemer account, so you'll start getting ideas immediately if you've got friends who are already using the service. However, this also means that if you want to make a new friend you'll have to add them to a Circle on Google+ — there's no way to separate the two. Once you've made some friends (called "accomplices") you can "rally" them to join you on a scheme. Lastly, Schemer will track what you've done and what you plan on doing, but that's about it (there is no gamification at this point). Only time will tell if users stick to Schemer and offer up some great ideas of what to do on your free time, but for now it's certainly worth a try next time you're sitting around on a Sunday afternoon looking to do something a bit different. Schemer is available now on the web and on Android, and an iPhone app is currently in the works.

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