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Groupon Founder Andrew Mason Makes U-Turn With New Audio Tour Startup Detour (Video)

The basic premise is to provide an immersive experience "where the tourists don't go."

Who doesn’t miss the quirky stylings of Andrew Mason, the founder and former CEO of Groupon who left the Chicago-based social commerce company with perhaps the best resignation letter of all time:

“After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention.”

Since then, he has moved to San Francisco and had a baby, and he’s also been laboring away on a number of new projects. That includes Detour, a “location-aware audio walks” app which will launch an invite-only beta version today, founded with Yishai Lerner.

Initially offering five tours of the City by the Bay, the basic premise is to provide an immersive experience “where the tourists don’t go.”

It is an unusual app, for sure. On a Tenderloin tour, for example, I visited a hidden art salon, looked at historical books about California at the Argonaut Book Shop and stopped in a cafe for espresso. Narrated by John Perry Barlow, the tour also provided gentle rants on everything from NSA spying to the imminence of death to how tech has sucked the soul out of San Francisco.

In other words, not for those who just want to know how they made the crookedest street here.

Rather, the tours — currently only available on Apple’s iOS — are more like elaborate tone poems mashed up with movable interactive theater. Narrated by people like Lawrence Ferlinghetti (of the Beat Generation) or a real fisherman (for Fisherman’s Wharf), the longish tours are meant to be more an audio short story than a traditional guide.

Think NPR’s “This American Life” — except you meet the actual people in the stories in real life — and you get the basic idea.

Consider this description: “Sweets of the Marina with Philosopher Ulrich Fürst: Enjoy gourmet pastries at Marina bakeries with philosopher Ulrich Fürst as he explores the irrational pursuit of irrational pleasures. His ruminations expose the paradoxical nature of the Marina landscape — its alternating yoga studios and ice cream parlors — where capitalism is fueled through the parasitic symbiosis of indulgence and restraint.”

The plan is to charge for the tours — up to $10, said Mason, who is funding the endeavor — adding more over time from other cities and providing a platform to let other creators contribute. One of the more interesting technological parts of Detour is the ability to share among a group of people — all with their own iPhones — with automatic syncing of the walks.

I did an video interview with Mason about Detour, which you can watch here:

And if you want to get an idea of what a walk feels like, he did a video clip here with Barlow’s tour:

And this is a pretty slick promo for the app:

And here are some more pretty photos I took on the audio walk with Mason:

(Full disclosure: Re/code editor Liz Gannes is creating an upcoming San Francisco tour for Detour on a freelance basis that has nothing to do with technology.)

This article originally appeared on

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