On a recent evening in North Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just before the sun was about to set, a siren sang somewhere near my apartment. It sounded like an air raid siren, and I assumed that it was probably just a test of the service. Then another went off, and another, and a fourth. I started to wonder about why they were doing that, so I checked Google. This article taught me that every Friday, sirens go off in Williamsburg 10 minutes before sunset to signal the beginning of Shabbat to the large Orthodox Jewish population in the neighborhood. Thousands of people were gathering to pray in those moments and I had no idea.

Because of that moment, as well as many others recently, we decided to build our own app to tell us what’s going on around us. It’s called Whoa, and it’s now available for download in the iPhone in the App Store.

Browsing the web these days is beginning to feel masochistic. Every time I log on to my Facebook, Twitter, Google, or even LinkedIn, it feels as if my world is being compressed into the views of only a certain few people. Troubling news, divisive politics, and angry friends are making my online experience into a dark, dreary place, and frankly, boring place. Even in the midst of these troubling things happening around us, when I walk outside, I am reminded that although those things are very real, there is much more to the world than the twenty-four-hour news cycle or cynical web opinions with fruitless back and forth arguing. Going to a farmers market to buy fresh produce, enjoying the nip of cold on my cheeks when the weather is just right, or discovering something unique about where I’m living is a reminder that life doesn’t have to be defined by what’s happening in the news cycle or on your social media feed.

Whoa is built on the backbone of the internet — data. Behind the front pages of the internet, when you really dig down a couple layers, you can start to see that there is a treasure-trove of publicly available databases that are waiting to be used. Everything from local history, to weather. Wildlife sightings to earthquakes. Space to nature. Political initiatives to fundraising.

Using our algorithm, Whoa taps into these databases (currently more than 90 and growing) and delivers short messages about what’s happening with the world around you. These messages are non-partisan, opinionless bits of valuable information aimed to make user’s say “whoa,” and are easily shared. We plan on combing the web to find the best, most interesting, truly Whoa-worthy content to build into this app.

Once we figured out how to get that system to work and were about to get it in the app store, we realized that relying only on publicly available databases didn’t quite get us to where we wanted. The internet contains a wealth of information, but still can’t tell you a whole lot of things — especially if you’re not looking for it. Things like flash sales at local stores, a sighting of a particularly interesting animal, or a spur of the moment event. That’s why we created the ability to write and publish your own ephemeral Whoa that will only be available for the next half hour and by other users within a half-mile of where you published.

Now anyone in North Williamsburg on a Friday will see this info while the sirens are
going off, just by opening the app. We built this app because we wanted to be able to use it, and invite you to check it out and use it yourself.Whoa is now available for iPhones in the Apple App Store.

I promise that you’ll love it.

Michael Walter. Cofounder and COO of Whoa.