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Why the Social Web Makes Local Reviews More Useful

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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

12 Responses to “Why the Social Web Makes Local Reviews More Useful”

  1. Unless it changes in a major way, 4Square just isn’t mainstream. It’s a game/niche network that appeals to only a few (the appeal you describe). But it wants to be mainstream and broadly used (hence the funding and expansion). Paradox: success means destruction of primary value of the service (trust circles preserve it to some degree). Take a look at AlikeList: Friends’ recommendations but in a more accessible and scalable way. (I’ve got no interest/stake in the company.)

    There’s also Aardvark (also a Google target). Hit and miss but when it works it’s very useful for recommendations.

  2. With a limited number of participants in specific geographies, it might be helpful to layer in a “was this helpful” functionality to the tips to validate the suggestion from people you don’t know, which is the case most of the time.

  3. If you’re interested in new local review services, I recommend trying Tellmewhere for iPhone.

    It’s an unique combination of location-based search and location-based social networking for discovering places and sharing experiences with friends. Tellmewhere’s recommendations are personalized so the more you rate and interacts with your friends the better it gets.

    App link

  4. I like the tips and also the ambient awareness you get on it of what your network is up to. However in Australia, where I am based, we dont have as many users, still relatively new here and its very spreadout geographically, so there arent as many tips for venues.

    We have something similar to Yelp called eatability, but there mostly for leaving food reviews about the whole experience rather than specific tips.

  5. Great post, Liz!

    You’re right about the hidden value in tips. They are way downplayed now, but I’m sure we’ll see them play a bigger role in the next few iterations.

    I have given up on Yelp as a way to find dishes, especially when I’m on the go. That’s not to say I don’t use Yelp. I think it’s a fantastic service, and I’ve gotten immense value out of it. Information overload, an ancient rating system, and search results for a laundromat when looking for sushi are what killed it for me.

    I’d actually like to see Foursquare do more with their website. I found a simple Google maps mashup the other day that shows where all your friends are around town. That would be trivial to implement, and I’m pretty sure they have the code left over from Dodgeball :)

    It’s also worth noting that Yelp has primed local businesses for companies like Foursquare, Gowalla and Foodspotting.

  6. Liz

    You make some solid points on this post and of course you and I have talked about this in the past.

    It was something I tried out on a recent night out, and it ended up being a remarkably different experience. Perhaps I will try and share.

    As something to point out, the utility of Yelp comments/reviews/stars is highly overrated. I have had many bad experiences with that service’s recommendations.