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tech review: roamz

Roamz is a social media app that wants to guide you to the all the hippest places, daring users to ‘live like a local’ (jaded, stressed out and stuck in a routine, I guess). While imaginative and novel, Roamz is ultimately let down by a relatively small user base, limited suggestions and some hilarious suggestion filtering.

Sorry Roamz, I want to see a film, not drive 29km to Craigieburn for a week of free training and the chance to win a ticket to Gold Class.

Roamz draws from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram to offer you suggestions: you get recommendations from people deciding that their meal is amazing, but that a photo and a slew of “amusing” hashtags would definitely improve it. I’m not one of those people (it speaks to a certain exhibitionism and/or voyeurism I’m not comfortable with. Tags like ‘#coffeeporn’ don’t help. I don’t care how good that latte is: I’m not drinking it now) and while I don’t encourage sepia-toned photos of milkshakes, I’m perfectly fine with people telling me where to buy said milkshake. So Roamz had a good core premise. I was sceptical but optimistic: after all, my friends always know great places to consume.

I started playing around with it at home. Roamz offers a collection of search buttons, making it easy to quickly look around for food, beer, markets and a smattering of other things. It’s a nice touch that simplifies the app. I could also choose to see everything around me, bombarding me with “things”.

I live in a relatively quiet area, but one surrounded by great restaurants, cafes and bars that a lot of people don’t really know about, and I have a pretty fantastic independent cinema nearby. If Roamz is really dedicated to finding people the great places ‘only the locals know about’ then, I assumed, it’d point me towards something to eat. Alas no. Almost every suggestion I got was for a place 8 or more kilometres away.

‘Okay, Roamz,’ I said as my stomach threatened to consume my spine, ‘Maybe a film will take my mind off my diabolical hunger.’

Roamz showed compassion but not support. It recommended I go to Craigieburn for some exercise, which is almost the exact opposite of sitting still in the dark with popcorn. It did recommend Kino in the city, which is a step in the right direction, but so much further away than quite a few cinemas near me. Oh well. A step in the right direction.

I chose to look for nearby ice cream because ice cream is the surest preventative of tears and disappointment. Roamz was eager to please and immediately offered a cream-coloured industrial locker. Delicious.

Sadly it was 11km away. I could really use a good hanging rod.

Searching in the heart of Melbourne eliminated most of these issues and offered up quite a few decent suggestions (a lot of ‘chicken and beer’, oddly enough), particularly in the coffee category. This is encouraging but doesn’t diminish the fact that the user base is currently lacking. This will improve over time, assuming Roamz becomes more popular. Until then, it’s a major limitation. The quality of this kind of app is dependent almost wholly on its content, and right now there are a lot of black holes.

While Roamz has its flaws, it has done a lot of things right. It looks nice and is easy to pick up and use. I particularly enjoyed its ‘drag to refresh’ bar that stretches and gloops as you drag down (‘gloop’ is the technical term). While it didn’t quite work for me, the option to sign in through Facebook is there, and users can curate the experience a bit more by creating a Roamz account (but neither Facebook nor Roamz accounts are required to use the app, which is great).

Roamz also allows users to ‘star’ places, which prompts the app to alert you when you’re close to it. That’s a great idea. Star a few places one day and you’ve got a list of places stored in your pocket for whenever you’re out and about, ready to go off, a ticking time bomb of deliciousness.

I could see myself liking the star/alert system when out with friends because it’s passive and relies a lot on chance. If it goes off and we go to that place, cool. If not, also cool. It doesn’t get in the way. Roamz itself and other apps of its ilk? They get in the way. If I’m out with friends, I rely on our collective knowledge to pick where we go. At its core, Roamz is right: my friends are the best source of ‘places to go’. But I just ask them for suggestions. I don’t need a tool for that. I already have one. My mouth.

A user on iTunes wrote a great review for Roamz and pointed out something I feel is valid: they’d use Roamz more if it were a desktop service. I have to agree. I can see myself browsing through user recommended/discovered places when planning a night out, but less so while the night out is in progress. Using it on a phone felt stifling. There was so much content I just wanted to breeze past and I couldn’t see enough at any given moment: a real problem given the way it was presented (I have no idea why content is presented according to the most recent post—wouldn’t ‘closest’ be more beneficial?). It presents posts in one continual column, which works for status updates or tweets. But when every post is a space-filling photograph, time drags and navigation becomes tedious.

Right now, Roamz is less a ‘find a place to go’ service and more a series of themed social media streams. But I think it will improve. A bigger collection of users tagging a wider variety of places would be a great start. Beyond that, it needs more curating with more thought given to the end user. I don’t want to sort through a dozen recently posted places 10km away just so I can find something close by. And I definitely don’t want results that aren’t helpful or are just plain weird.

I’m not sure what you’re suggesting here Roamz, but, frankly, it’s not cool.

I would never go to Werribee.

By Cory Zanoni

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