Tuesday, 24 August 2010

About Facebook Places and why Foursquare, Gowalla, Qype and Yelp will continue to strive

Most likely, you've read about Facebook Places one way or another in the last couple days, even if you aren't a techgeek. After all the service is ultimately going to become available to about 8% of the world's population. So quite hard to avoid. But if you missed it, GigaOm did a good debrief here.

For now it's only available in the US, so I've only managed to get second hand experiences so far, but that didn't stop me from pondering whether and how I will use this new service, the impact it may have on other swimmingly similar services such as Yelp, Qype, Foursquare, Gowalla and the others and most importantly, what it means for businesses.

How will I use it?

I've been an early adopter of check-in based services, from always-on Google Latitude to action based Foursquare and Qype. I discovered that the service I used and the reasons for using it was heavily dependant on two things: the graph model and the graph members. Let me explain what I mean here.
  • The relevance of the model: Facebook is by default mostly closed to the world. So things I post on my stream, I expect only my Facebook friends to see. On the other side of the spectrum is Twitter. Things I post on Twitter, I expect the entire webuniverse to see. In the middle, you have Latitude, Foursquare, Gowalla, Qype, Yelp and the others. There are some check-ins I will share only with my family or friends, some other that I will share with business contacts and some I don't mind sharing with the world at large. Different use cases, different models required.
  • The graph members: I am also quite conscious that I don't want to pollute people screen estate with information that isn't relevant to them. As an example, when I was earlier this year at SXSW Interactive talking about how LikeCube powered recommendations for locations, Foursquare and Gowalla made a lot of sense to use, because 1-I needed an open model where I could find people easily and they could find me, 2-I needed a graph that was mostly business oriented and relevant with my time in Austin, TX (my business contacts from my days in IT services couldn't care less that I attended a panel on the future of geolocation). Foursquare and Gowalla adressed these needs well because most of the people there used one or the other service and these graph members were most not present in my Facebook or twitter graphs... or Linkedin graph for the matter.
Are the other services affected?
Well is it quite early to say, but in my personal case, because of the way I use my Facebook graph, I will continue to use Qype (for getting personalized recommendations to discover new places), Foursquare and Gowalla (for staying in touch with my SXSW extended crowd) and hopefully one day Linkedin. But maybe overtime, someone will solve the issue of how to manage all those graphs with respect to the business cases we use them for and I might revert to a single service.

So what does it mean for businesses?
The big opportunity is of course related to cracking to local advertising space. With the dismiss of the print Yellow Pages, a void was left. Google, Yelp and Qype have built their business on this. Now Foursquare and Gowalla are getting there through game mechanics and the check-in revolution. Now Facebook is clearly set on taking it to another level. With an unrivalled reach of 500m users, it will be interesting to see how things will evolve. You can find some advices on what to do with Facebook Places here.

Personally, I think that until such time one of these players manages to get the graphs playing nice with the business cases so that everyone adopt only one, you'll still have to consider what each player can do for you individually. Each is specific and can help you reach a different audience. So know your targets!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Is personalization the solution to the hotel reviews problem?

It isn't news that anonymous reviews are a problem - though it's now potentially turning into a serious legal battle as pointed out in the blog post: Hospitality industry rages at power of TripAdvisor's anonymous internet reviews.

Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said hotels across Europe were seeking to persuade the EU Commission to overhaul the rules governing website reviews to ensure that they have been posted by genuine guests and not by rivals or people simply out to cause mischief.

The article goes on to state:

Industry leaders called for the rest of Europe to adopt the same standards of authentication that are already in operation in Germany.

While requiring authenticated users is a good way forward (potentially reducing the amount of spam, both positive and negative), it won't fundamentally change the problem: creating authenticated reviews won't prevent people from writing negative comments about hotels if their experience was truly poor; Tripadvisor will still be able to create a Top 10 list of dirtiest hotels; and some hotels will still feel unfairly represented (though one might argue that this is an opportunity for the named hotels to benefit from a surge in publicity).

The very idea of a global Top 10 is the problem.

The question is, do you align yourself with the 80% of negative reviews or the 20% of positive ones? Without knowing the individuals writing those reviews, how can you be sure? We often default for the majority, but that doesn't mean it's the best option.

One of the main complaints about Tripadvisor is that it offers no way to easily know if you can relate to the people writing reviews: Is your taste similar? Do you care about the same things in rating your hotel stay? What if comments are unfair, unjustified or plain unreasonable?

TripAdvisor would be far more useful if they offered personalized content, a personalized Top 10, with tailored reviews from people with similar taste to your own.