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New iPhone app Beerdog wants to create packs of social suds-lovers

Posted by Scott Kirsner  March 15, 2012 08:17 AM

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Dedicated beer-drinkers may occasionally have trouble remembering everything they've tried over the course of a night out. Enter Beerdog, an iPhone app launched this week by Boston-based TBD Media. It lets you take pictures of beer bottles, cans, and tap handles to keep tabs on what you've tasted. The app uses image recognition technology to identify the brew, and then lets you append a comment. You accumulate points for every beer you scan — especially rare ones — and you can follow and communicate with other Beerdog users.

The beer apps niche is as crowded as the Cask n' Flagon on a game day, with two successful apps, BrewGene and Pintley, developed in Boston. Both focus more on reviews, ratings, and making recommendations than Beerdog, and both have 4.5-star ratings in the iTunes Store. Like Beerdog, both are free. A third beer app built in Boston, RedPint, encouraged drinkers to share their favorite ales with friends, and was acquired last year in an all-stock transaction by Untapped, yet another company that makes a beer app.

Beerdog may have a leg up on competitors; its founding team includes CEO Kevin Bradshaw, a mobile gaming veteran, Devin Kelly, a former VP of marketing for AB Inbev (which makes Beck's, Budweiser, and Stella Artois), and Eric Spitz, the ex-CFO of Narragansett Brewing Company.

When I downloaded the app earlier this week for a quick test, Beerdog identified one out of three beers I photographed correctly. (It missed a Harpoon Apple Cider and a Narragansett Cream Ale, but got a Stella.) And that was with decent lighting, which isn't usually present at a bar. The app sends its ID of a beer back within a minute or two, and when it's wrong, you can reject the bad guess and (presumably) have the picture looked at by a human and corrected.

beerdog2.pngI did find it interesting to see what other beers people were scanning around Boston, and the Beerdog website has a world map that can show you where the most usage is taking place. The website also includes leaderboards showing the most active Beerdog users, and the "most epic finds." I'm not sure how they're gauging epic-ness, but it seems to me that Bud Light should probably not be among them. (Pyramid Hefeweizen, made in Seattle, legitimately earned a spot on this list.)

The app hasn't yet introduced me to a new band of drinking buddies, but it seems like a fun thing to demo when you're standing at a bar with friends.

Spitz tells me that Beerdog's parent company, TBD Media, is moving into the MassChallenge offices in the Innovation District next week, and plans to launch other apps in the future. "Beer is the first of what we expect to be many different product categories," he says. The company plans to offer the apps for free, and use them to help big brands communicate with customers and prospective customers on mobile devices.

"We want to do a consumer mobile company in Boston, and we want to break the mold," Spitz says. But he acknowledges that he has faced some cold shoulders in pitching the company to angels and venture capitalists: "The VC community doesn't make instinct investments, and the angel community is very small. I had three guys who want to do our A round, but their attitude was, 'Show me 20,000 users. We've got to see that people are using it.'"

So that's what Beerdog is out to show...

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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