Why the Social Web Makes Local Reviews More Useful

Though the promise of earning mayorship and badges doesn’t inspire me to block doorways so I can pull out my phone and check in on Foursquare (ahem, Om), I do use the service quite a bit. For me the most valuable thing it offers are the tips left by its relatively small group of San Francisco users, many of whom I recognize. That’s how, during recent visits, I knew to order the Duchesse de Bourgogne at Shotwell’s bar (yummy, if a little weird) and the fish tacos at Dos Piñas (just yummy).

In the past, I would have scrolled through reviews on the Yelp iPhone app in the same situation — but let’s be honest, on Yelp it’s really all about the four stars test. Does a place have fewer than four stars? Stay away. Four stars? Solid. More than four? Go now! But once I’m through the door, what I really want is a few good, actionable tips about what to order, preferably from people I trust.

This is why I see so much value in online networks that are more intimate. The wisdom of the crowds is great and all, but it’s just too much to take in. And most importantly, reviews are a matter of taste. Sure, tacos and beer may appeal to most everybody in the core Yelp demographic, but far more awesome would be things that reflect my actual preferences, as approximated by my friends’ tastes.

Intersecting where we are and who we know should become an amazing indicator of what we want. Though it’s not the searchable public information Facebook and everyone else wants to make money from these days, this activity is even more valuable, because it’s so often associated with our intent to actually spend money.

Probably the best thing about services like Foursquare is that they’re training users like me to use them primarily from phones. (I think I visited Foursquare’s web site for maybe the second time ever today to pull the URLs for this article.) Recommendations are so much more valuable when they come to you on the go. A mobile tool that provides tips that are local, current, relevant, actionable and come from friends? Sign me up.

Photo from Flickr user thebittenword.com.