A team of Twitter alumni is today launching a new social app for consumers, rex, intended to help people share their personal recommendations of places to visit, such as restaurants, bars, museums, and other businesses, even hiking trails and parks. Using a combination of AI and computer vision technologies, the app aims to make it easier to get started sharing your recommendations by searching your phone’s camera roll for photos of favorite places, which you can then add to curated playlists shared with friends and followers.
Founded in 2021 by former Twitter product manager Alice Rosen, who previously led the initiative to change Twitter’s character limit from 140 to 280, Rex has been in development for just over a year and a half. Today, the app officially exits beta testing and is being made available to the public.
The startup also announces the $3.96 million raise in seed funding from Accel, Khosla Ventures and other investors from Twitter, Snap and Pinterest, including Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, through its fund Future Positive.
Rosen says she was inspired to build a social recommendations app because she was always interested in travel planning, even as a child.
“I just loved the process of thinking about new places to go – whether that was a distant destination or the city I lived in and the surrounding area,” explains the founder. “I’ve always been super fascinated with discovering new places,” she says, but notes that it’s often difficult to do real research to discover the best places.
“Finding places for a particular circumstance that meet our needs and preferences can be very difficult…this is the experience I’ve had,” Rosen continues. “The internet is just flooded with reviews, ratings, recommendations and blog posts from strangers whose tastes we don’t know.” Plus, she adds, the crowdsourced model of apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp now feels old-fashioned compared to the social products people use today that deliver personalized, curated content efficiently.
Those pain points led to the development of Rex – an app that aims to address the issues associated with both discovering new places and sharing your own recommendations with others.
Using Rex is as easy as starting up promises. You go through a few initial steps to give Rex permission to access your contacts and photos on your phone, and then the technology kicks in to discover what potential recommendations are already hidden in your camera roll.
Rosen assures us that the team is taking steps to ensure that the app still respects user privacy while doing so.
“I have two privacy engineers on my team who come from 1Password and they are obsessed with security,” she notes. The company doesn’t store users’ photos on its own servers — it just stores the metadata locally on users’ devices. Only when a user chooses to make a recommendation is the data stored on Rex’s servers, Rosen notes.
To determine what recommendations you might need to share, Rex has developed a proprietary ML model trained on computer vision of images. Specifically, the model looks for images of places and compares them to photo metadata to determine if the place is worth sharing, such as a photo of a dish in a restaurant, for example. It also looks at other cues, such as the photo’s coordinates and timestamps, then tries to guess when that photo was taken.
When you find a photo that represents a place you want to recommend, just tap a few times to share it with your friends. You tick a box, enter some text about why you want to recommend the place, and publish. The spot can also be added to ‘playlists’ that you create, such as those for your hometown or other cities you’ve visited, or for other themes, such as cuisine. These “rex” are also published on a global feed where you can see others’ recommendations.
Your friends’ ongoing recommendations are available in a global feed, but what’s most useful is the map view of the app that lets you explore your friends’ recommendations around you. That way, when you visit a new city or even your own, you can scan to see what nearby places your friends have suggested that are worth visiting.
“In a world where we are inundated with one-size-fits-all content, blogs and lists, Rex delivers a signal amidst all the noise by helping us discover places and experiences validated by people we already trust Rex supporter, Amit Kumar of Accel, said in a statement. “Mining the camera roll turns out to be a very clever way to do this; it already contains an extremely reliable signal of where we are going and what places we like. No one else in the room has attempted anything like this, which means no recommendation is as curated or personal as Rex.”
Rex is one downloadable for free in the App Store. The app is not yet monetizing through ads, subscriptions, or in-app purchases.