Aug 232011
 
Authors: Evan S. Benn McClatchy-Tribune

ST. LOUIS — When Cole Harper was home in St. Louis on breaks from the University of Missouri-Columbia, he and his buddies discovered the bar-hopper’s Goldilocks paradox: The places they stopped in were often too empty or too crowded, but none seemed just right.

“I kept thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the scene was like before paying $20 for a cab?’” Harper, 27, said.

“Are there people there? Girls? Is it a young crowd or more mature?”

To help answer those questions, Harper and friend Marc Doering founded SceneTap. The free mobile application uses cameras loaded with facial-detection technology to feed users’ phones real-time data about the number of people in a bar, their average age and the male-to-female ratio.

SceneTap launched last month in Chicago, and so far about 75 venues there have paid to be included in the app. Harper, the company’s CEO, said he was planning to bring the technology to his hometown this fall. He has been fielding requests from bar owners from California to Israel.

“We’ve gotten interest from people in every continent except Antarctica,” Harper said of his 50-person company. “We’re just closing out a second round of financing, and our focus right now is on national expansion. Our goal is to be in 1,000 venues a year from now.”

In St. Louis, Harper said, the areas he’s targeting include downtown, Soulard, the Central West End and Clayton.

SceneTap could benefit locals and tourists here, said Emily Cloud, who writes about downtown St. Louis nightlife on her blog, washavestl.com.

“I think people would love it, consumers in particular, especially on Washington Avenue. You get a lot of tourists because they’ve heard of the area or they’re down at a convention, but they’re always asking where to go,” said Cloud, a former bartender at downtown’s the Side Bar. “I cannot tell you the countless amount of times when I would be working at the Side Bar, and guys would walk in and be like, ‘Where are the girls?’ I would also see a lot of people walk in or out depending on the crowd and if it was busy or not.”

Here’s how SceneTap works: A small camera positioned at a bar’s entrance keeps track of the number of people coming and going, and a second camera scans faces to determine gender and approximate age. (An algorithm matches the bar patrons’ facial characteristics to an anonymous database to come up with ages and genders.)

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