clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Goji is an emoji keyboard that recommends great food and drinks

New, 8 comments

Gowalla founder Josh Williams is back

We've seen predictive keyboards, doodle keyboards, and even GIF keyboards for Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 8. Now, we're getting a first look at Goji, a keyboard that uses the emoji we already use to propose plans, to actually help us make them. With Goji installed (here's how to do that), you can tap on one of the keyboard's 48 "gojis" — like coffee, pizza, sushi, the beach, etc — to see a quick list of three good places nearby. Tap the coffee goji, for example, and the keyboard displays three coffee spots nearby. Tap one, and Goji inserts a link to the place inside your conversation so you can get directions.

But why does Goji only show three recommendations per category, and where do these recommendations even come from? This is, in fact, the most interesting part of the story. Goji isn't very practical, but is our very first taste of what Gowalla founder Josh Williams has been working on for the last year. If you haven't heard of Gowalla, it was Foursquare's original competitor — a delightful check-ins service service that was in turn acquired by Facebook in 2011. But in mid-2013, Williams left Facebook and we haven't heard from him since.

goji screen 1

Goji is the first product of The Last Guide Company, Williams' new venture that aims to make finding stuff to do at the right moment a lot easier. If Yelp is for general local search and Foursquare is for personalized local search — Last Guide products will just tell you what's good for the right moment. Thus, Goji only provides three ideas for coffee, dinner, or a sushi place. "We want to reduce the paradox of choice," says Williams. "For me, finding places or things to do has always leaned heavily on recommendations from people that I really trust, or just context in general."

In the final days of Gowalla, in fact, the company pivoted towards providing just these kinds of guides. But when Gowalla was acquired by Facebook two months later, Williams never got to see the idea reach real fruition. Of course, food guides are nothing new, but Williams says no company has truly turned them into structured data like Foursquare has done with tips and Yelp has done with reviews. Also, none of these guide services — except Foursquare and Yelp, arguably — use the sensors on your phone to inform your searches. In other words, Williams wants his company to be the Songza for food and fun stuff to do.

Williams wants his company to be the Songza for food and fun stuff to do

Today, Goji (and other unannounced Last Guide products) only work in a few cities — LA, New York City, Portland, and San Francisco — but the company plans to expand further. This is going to be hard, though, since Last Guide is powered by expert recommendations instead of user data like Foursquare and Yelp. So, Williams hired Meredith Arthur, a former editor at Chow magazine who also worked at The Food Network, to get things started. "But is Goji actually going to work, or is this just a crazy experiment?" I ask Williams. He laughs. "Definitely more the second!" he says. "We see it as an experiment to use the tools we've already built, and to get them in the market sooner than later." Goji was built in the last five weeks, he adds.

Goji may be a toy, but it's still worth considering. The keyboard hints at a future where searching for information might not involve text. Goji's information density of categories is actually very high, after all. But it also seems prescient in an age where so much of "local recommendations" revolves around user data. Is it time we hand our recommendations back to the experts?