A mobile location startup called Quipster launched today and TechCrunch panned it. In fact, author Leena Rao may have panned an entire sector, starting out her review with the sentence “Do we really need another mobile check-in app?”

Rao went on to criticize Quipster for a shortage of differentiation. I think she’s wrong about that; I think Quipster is a very interesting product with some important differentiation that points toward the future of mobile social media. What Quipster deserves to be slammed for is having a terrible launch marketing strategy.

The Good News

Quipster is a silly name for a service, “quip” is an antiquated and awkward word in this day and age. Once you look past that, though, the structure of this app really is something to take note of.

The app lets you check in at a venue using a nested series of structured activity types. First click the big icon for Art & Entertainment, for example, and then you’ll be presented with options like good movie, bad movie, festival, concert, watching a play, etc. Pick one of those and then you’ve got the option to edit the caption of the activity type and offer something not just granular but personal. The check-in is completed with venue selection, photos, comments and options to push to Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare. The company says it’s a better way to check in and there’s something to that.

When looking at a city with some Quipster users, you can see who has posted the most popular messages concerning each type of activity and then you can choose to follow that person. Consider this: on Foursquare I have no reason to follow people I don’t know. But if Quipster had a meaningful number of users in my city I’d follow the top people in Dining, Sports, Art and other categories whether I knew them or not – because I wanted to see their updates and comments.

There’s a lot of potential here. The site is nicely designed and the user experience is well-considered. Different levels of social rewards beyond a single Mayorship per venue is something Foursquare has been talking about doing for a long time – Quipster does that and then takes it a step further by measuring social influence in particular activity types.

I think TechCrunch was wrong to slam it on account of differentiation, I think their review was too brief and not well enough considered.

The Bad News

Unfortunately, Quipster does still deserve some criticism beyond its choice of names. Essentially, they are marketing problems. Here are the first things that made a negative impression for me.

  • There’s a cold start problem: this is a social network with no users and no value other than what users contribute. No one is using it in Portland, Oregon where I live and Portland is one of the hottest places in the country for mobile and location. That’s why Google tests all their mobile location programs here first (like HotPot, now Google Offers). Even if there aren’t any users here though, there has got to be some info about these venues that Quipster could pull in from elsewhere so it could offer me something while it builds network effect.

  • The company’s founders have strong resumes but are nowhere to be seen. The launch press release mentions that Quipster was built by veterans of Google, Yahoo and Oracle. And it quotes the CEO, Krating Poonpol. Looking him up on LinkedIn, he’s listed as “Product Marketing Manager (Global lead) – Google Earth/Ocean/Moon/Mars/Sky” for more than two years! No one on staff has an up to date LinkedIn profile that lists the company’s current name, though. If these guys have so much experience – let the public know! And if they’ve got so much experience, why didn’t they do a better job of launching this product?

  • The company’s Twitter account has never posted a message and is only following one person. There are no posts on the company’s blog. There’s no entry in Crunchbase, despite the CEO’s LinkedIn profile making multiple references to the company’s having raised “funding from Forbe’s billionaire angel investor.”

  • Some companies use their Twitter accounts and blogs to build up interest before they launch. It looks like Quipster just planned on building an attractive product and then trying to get on TechCrunch.

  • The company’s URL is Quipster.co – because someone else owns the .com and it’s got spammy looking pop-ups on it!

  • The company put a super-dorky over-the-top press release on the wires (“Quipster will transform your social life and turn you into a social icon… it’s about redefining the world around you and that of your fellow citizens”) and has a press kit on its site full of unlabeled icons and screenshots named things like icon1, icon2, icon3, none of which are something anyone in the press would publish.

I would have thought this wasn’t even a real company except (to be honest) that it has enough money to have paid for a very nicely produced video, below.

It’s a crowded market, folks. You might have an innovative, attractive, relatively well-designed app in one of the hottest sectors around, like mobile social location, but unless you can communicate the value you offer more effectively than this – then you’ll be lucky if you get a short, snide review on TechCrunch. The problem here isn’t with the product though (beyond the cold start problem), it’s with the marketing of the product.