Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake’s new startup Pinwheel is very interesting — but it’s not an original idea. In fact it’s an idea that has been unsuccessfully tried by at least two startups in the past (Socialight and Flook). The central concept is that you can leave public or private geotagged notes that are associated with real-world places and can be discovered by others.
Fake explains in her blog post:
On Pinwheel you can find and leave notes all around the world. The notes can be public or private, shared with an individual, a group or everyone. They can be organized into sets, such as, say, the “Tales from the Road: KISS’s 1974 Hotter Than Hell Tour”, “Best Spots for Butterfly Hunting”, “Every place that you told me that you loved me, circa 2008″ or “Find me a Nearby Toilet NOW”. You can follow people, places and sets. And in the future, you will get notifications on your phone from who and what you choose . . . Here’s an example of what a note looks like. This is one of my notes from Grand Central Station:
As mentioned, the “notes” — Pinwheel was previously called “Knotes” — can be left for private recipients or for the general public. Public notes are not unlike Foursquare “tips;” however the canvas is much larger for Pinwheel: the world at large, not just business locations. Private notes can be left for individuals or groups.
Anticipating all the “business model” questions Fake says that Pinwheel will make money with sponsored notes. One can instantly imagine numerous, creative scenarios involving sponsored notes. Companies could use them equally for branding or to create incentives to visit a business location. Indeed, offers could easily be integrated into Pinwheel, and so on.
Fake has reluctantly embraced the description “Flickr for Places.” This is probably something someone said or reflected back to her during fundraising. Not yet in public beta, Pinwhweel has already raised a hefty $9 million (or so) in angel and A-round funding.
Fake’s first startup Flickr sold to Yahoo for a reported $35 million and her other startup Hunch recently sold to eBay for roughly $80 million (though Fake exited months before the sale). Fake tried for several years to make a go as an executive at Yahoo and worked on several products and projects there, including Yahoo Answers. It’s unfortunate that Yahoo was unable to retain her.
Beyond the fact that she’s smart and creative, Fake’s track record is what gave investors confidence to pour $9 million into her as yet unlaunched, unproven new venture.
My guess is that those investors were ignorant of the failures of Flook and the original incarnation of Socialight, which had the same “real-world notes” idea at their core. However Fake’s execution (from what I can tell so far) looks a great deal more polished — and her timing is much better as well.