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IT & Systems Management

Sidecar testing new trending tool for activity hot spots

Sidecar is testing a feature to show the "trending" destinations of the ride-sharing apps' users.

"Trend Spot," as the feature is called, is nearing launch among a select group of early users. Should it roll out more broadly, it could help Sidecar distinguish itself from of a growing array of competitive apps like Uber and Lyft that are attracting attention from smartphone users, investors and regulators alike. Sidecar's paid drivers, who are also app users, are connected with people who need rides in the 10 cities where the service operates.

Sidecar declined to comment about the feature other than to say it was one of several programs the company is testing. An early invitation notice for the tool said that it would make it easy to see which locations in a person's city are trending, and where that person's friends are going.

Sidecar lets its users invite their friends to the service from their device's native contact list, but does not require that users import their contact lists, so it is not clear how it will determine with whom a user is friends on the service.

"Trend Spot keeps tabs on all the trending destinations in the city based on Sidecar rides," the company said in a notice describing the program. "We'll even tell you which locations are trending among your own friends," Sidecar said.

It might seem to be a curious way to use a mobile ride-hailing service. Imagine opening the app and seeing the message, "Sidecar is delivering lots of people to Fenway Park right now -- must be a happening spot!" Or, "Three of your friends just arrived at a bar near the White House!"

Would anyone make plans, or change existing plans, based on that kind of information?

Maybe it wouldn't matter. Trends of who's going where, in the aggregate, could be an interesting way of discovering things you didn't know were happening in your city, much like trending information on Twitter sometimes leads people to discover news stories, said Arun Sundararajan, professor of information, operations and management sciences at New York University, who studies digital economics.

If Sidecar were to launch the program more broadly, it could yield some positive surprises, he said. "We have so many 'signals' these days based on news and information, from 'cyberspace,' and so few about our physical space, so one never knows what people might find interesting, or how it might change our behaviors," he said.

Trend Spot's inception comes as Sidecar, which started in San Francisco in 2012, has introduced some new ways to use its service. The company recently remodeled its app to let people more easily pick rides based on a number of variables like price, driver ratings and the type of vehicle.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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