Engineering at Detour


Almost every app is built for the same part of the iPhone—its screen. But Detour is the exact opposite. Our goal is to get people out into the world, immersed in their surroundings, and every glance at the phone risks breaking the spell. For Detour to work, we needed to create the same feeling a…

(Source: detourappblog)

About fifteen years into my career, after I inherited a new editor, I walked into his office and handed him a document. “This is my owner’s manual,” I said. “I call it “‘The Care and Feeding of a Banaszynski.’” It was my guide on how to best manage me, based on a bit of reporting on, well, me. It was made up of two simple lists: Do and Don’t. If the editor followed the Do list, I would be loyal, productive, and his best advocate in the newsroom. (Example: Tell me once a week you’re glad I work here and make me believe it.) But follow the Don’t list, and … I wouldn’t do my best work. (Top of that list: Don’t gasp at the length of my story until after you’ve read it.) Then I asked him to write his own manual for me.

Jacqui Banaszunski in Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University

Vespa GTV 300 ie

This is my scooter. It’s like having cheat codes for San Francisco; I don’t know how people get around without one. It was fun in Chicago too, but the hills plus the lane splitting plus the weather plus the small size of SF make it the perfect city for owning a scooter.

Tweetstorm - August 14, 2014

If I was named Steven, I would really dislike the name Stephen. I’m not sure how I’d feel about Steven if my name was Stephen, though.

I’ve also found that Stevens universally get super pissed about being called “Steve.” I don’t know about Stephens.

Originally published on Twitter

One of the things I hate about myself is that I consider, and sometimes purchase, every new slim wallet product (instead of accepting how unimportant they are). I’ve used this allet for several years and never found a suitable successor - until now. If you can allow yourself the indulgence of buying a wallet with a promotional video that shows it being hand-stitched, I really like this slimfold wallet.

I’d never heard the real Ravel play this piece! Sounds like he’s trying to keep himself from being completely bored by it.

(Source: Spotify)

My new company

Today we’re introducing Detour, the new startup I co-founded with Yishai Lerner. Click here to read about it and sign up for early access.

I’ve wanted someone to build Detour since Apple created the App Store (I was preparing to launch Groupon at the time). I started thinking about the concept when my wife and I visited the Roman Ruins in 2006. We wanted to learn about the Ruins, but we’ve never really liked guided tours. Trapped for hours with a group of tourists and on someone else’s schedule, they make vacation feel like work.

So we downloaded an audio guide on our iPod and each put an earbud in one ear. It was a crude setup, but there was something special about being tuned into a different layer of reality than everyone around us. Since that experience, every time we went on vacation I’d look for a relevant app, but never found one with great content that really took advantage of the new technological possibilities. So after leaving Groupon, I thought I’d give it a try.

While I’m excited to use Detour as a traveler, we think there’s perhaps even more potential for locals. Last November, Yishai and I visited New York to take an audio walk by artist Stephan Crasneanscki of Soundwalk, during which a Hasidic Jew guides you through his neighborhood in Brooklyn. You become cinematically immersed in the narrator’s world, as if a character in a film. The experience left us imagining possibilities for Detour much bigger than the trivia-laden  audio tours you might find in museums. Rather, we came to see Detour as a way to walk the world in someone else’s shoes.

We’re starting in the Bay Area, releasing a new Detour every couple of weeks, and expanding to other cities later. We’re working with a variety of talented journalists, radio producers, tour guides, filmmakers, and artists to produce Detours ourselves. These early Detours are all about experimentation. We have traditional destinations, like Fisherman’s Wharf, but we found a fisherman who has worked there for 40 years to guide you through the working pier and experience a side of the Wharf that tourists rarely see. We’re also producing Detours in seemingly nondescript places, like Western Addition, or a walk through Bayview, on which you learn about San Francisco’s ambitious goal to recycle or reuse every single item we ‘throw away,’ as you walk from the aisles of a grocery store to the pier where container ships pick up bundles of plastic and take them to China. In 2015 we’ll release creation tools that will allow anyone to create and sell a Detour.

I’m obliged to recognize a few of the visionaries in this space that paved the way for Detour, many of whom have been extremely generous in sharing their insights and experiences. As far as I know, if there’s a true inventor of the field of immersive audio walks, it’s Chris Hardman of Antenna Theater. If you’ve never taken his Alcatraz tour, you’re missing out. Soundwalk Collective opened our minds to the possibilities of the medium by producing the most powerful location-based audio we’ve ever experienced. And they’ll be creating content for Detour, starting with a walk through San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood narrated by John Perry Barlow. There are many others - too many to mention - including Janet Cardiff/George Miller, and Alex Butterworth, both of whom created experiences that take the concept in different but equally compelling directions. I hope our platform inspires a future generation of creators to further push the limits of the medium.

I remember being four years into Groupon - proud of what we’d built, with 12,000 employees, $5B in annual sales, and an IPO under our belt - but sometimes thinking back to when we were small, and wishing I knew at the beginning what I knew then. So I’ve relished the experience of beginning again. This is largely thanks to the wonderful Detour team (by the way, we’re hiring), who built something that I’m enormously proud to be part of.

I think Detour will take you by surprise, and can’t wait for you to give it a try. Until then, if you have thoughts or ideas, email me!