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An App Inspired by App Overload

An app called Vurb aims to make it easier to search for stuff to do using a smartphone.

Looking up information on a smartphone can be cumbersome.

For the past few years, Bobby Lo has been trying to figure out how to use a smartphone to plan a night out with friends, without shuffling back and forth between apps and Web pages just to make dinner reservations or find movie times.

He now thinks he’s built a solution in the form of Vurb, an app released last week for the iPhone (an Android version is expected in a few months). Vurb, which is free, lets you search for things like restaurants, movies, and concerts, and get results close to where you are, laid out on information-packed cards that include data from several different sources—reviews, related videos, maps, show times, and links to get a ride there via Uber or Lyft. These slides can then be shared with friends.

You can gather several cards on the same topic, such as “San Francisco Cocktail Joints,” into an annotated deck, and share cards and decks quickly with Vurb-using friends (if they’re not using the app, you can text a link to a Web-based view of the same content). If you want to get more information from any single source in the app, like reviews on Yelp, you can tap to open up that app on your phone.

Lo believes Vurb makes it easier to navigate content that’s normally accessed through a number of mobile apps. This is likely to be important as we become more and more dependent on our smartphones and other mobile devices.

Vurb is connected with about 30 different online data sources so far, including Yelp, Foursquare, YouTube, review aggregator Metacritic, and one-minute video review startup Tastemade. The app also considers contextual information like your location as you conduct a search.

Vurb lets you narrow searches to topics like “movies” and “music”; you can also search just publicly available decks if you’d like to view other users’ recommendations.

Investors seem interested in Vurb’s potential—so far, the company has raised more than $10 million from investors ranging from venture-capital firm Redpoint Ventures to tech executives like PayPal cofounder Max Levchin and Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston.

Lo says Vurb isn’t bringing in any revenue from the app, though eventually he can imagine making money from helping people complete transactions within Vurb, like buying movie tickets (for now, if you want to buy a movie ticket while using Vurb, the app will actually take you over to Fandango’s checkout screen).

Lo is thinking about other ways people could use Vurb. Because the decks make it easy to search for, collect, and send information, a music teacher might use it to send students a deck of different videos and upcoming concerts related to a particular musician, he says, or a salesperson might use it as a way to organize business leads that span all kinds of companies.

“You can mix and match almost anything,” Lo says.

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