Stuart Blog 2: Local reviews

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Local reviews

Another obvious component for a community portal will be a merchant database. I've been very determined to keep track of local restaurants online. Spatial organization and tagging were more important to me than rankings and reviews or other features so I moved from one mapping site to the next. I finally settled on something called Tagzania. Before Tagzania, I tried mygmaps, gmaptrack and I'm sure several that I'm forgetting. After I started using Tagzania, I tried CommunityWalk, JotSpot Tracker and Ning's Restaurant Reviews with Maps. I stuck with Tagzania mostly because it does what I need but partially because I felt locked in by the effort I'd already sunk into it. I currently have nearly 120 Cleveland area food businesses catalogued on Tagzania. (I do think about some things that don't fit in my mouth, by the way.)

But this isn't a reasonable long term solution for the problem of sharing restaurant reviews. For such a database to be really useful, reviews and rankings are necessary.

Kritx, Judy's Book, Yelp, DinnerBuzz, Zipingo and Lopico are all trying to aggregate user contributed reviews as the core of their business model. This is, of course, in addition, to Amazon's yellowpages and Yahoo's yellowpages which allow users to add reviews. These are just the ones that I found in a two minute search. I'm sure there are many more. And the best is yet to come. It is widely anticipated that Google is going to rollout search portals for cars, reviews, events, real estate, etc... Oodle is a newcomer to the so-called "vertical search space". Good luck to them avoiding being crushed between Google, Yahoo! and Amazon.

There were 12 user contributed reviews posted on Judy's book for the Cleveland area just today. I was very surprised to see that. Unfortunately, Judy's Book doesn't seem to accept the open philosophy that's required in CleveWiki but it does show that users are enthusiastic about sharing their information.

Kritx, Yelp and Dinnerbuzz all seem to "get" the open philosophy. One big advantage of Kritx is that it will collect your review from wherever you keep it. It relies on microformats. Users post reviews in their own web spaces in a format that a computer can uderstand but at the same time is easy for human's to generate and to read.

Kritx appears to be in a very early stage of development. Yelp and Dinnerbuzz both seem to be more developed. Yelp has the advantage of covering all categories of merchants in addition to restaurants. Yelp also appears to have ambitious plans for future growth. Dinnerbuzz frees your data up in an RSS feed and it's stored in the hReview microformat. Yelp also offers RSS feeds.

My recommendation would be a mix of kritx and dinnerbuzz. Working with kritx will be great for users who want complete control over their reviews. They can post reviews on their own blogs and they'll be perfectly prepared for web 3.0 when vertical search engines suck and aggregate all of their content. In the mean time, others can use Dinnerbuzz without worrying about a web space to store their reviews.

It's a lot more work than just setting up a wiki page called ClevelandRestaurants and letting everyone loose. That's okay with me because I don't really have the expertise to do that work anyway. But I hope that someone will decide that the work is really worth it to create a richer more useful experience at CleveWiki.


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