The nice people at The Register (Well, it’s very hard to catch them actually being nice, but in this specific case either they are, or their sarcasm is much subtler than usual) have published an article covering a new social-networking thingy called Yelp!.
The idea behind Yelp! seems to be that it lets you ask your friends for recommendations about places. And (This is the social-networking part, I suppose) then for them to go on asking their friends for you. All with less work and hassle, at least according to Yelp!.
Let’s look at the workflow, by the nice how-it-works from Yelp!’s site. Step one:
Ask Your Friends
When you want to find good local businesses you ask the people you trust. Yelp! makes that easy.
To get started, just enter what you’re looking for, together with your friends’ email addresses.
Quite amazing so far. I only need to write what I’m looking for, and my friends’ email addresses. Let’s compare to the other option, sending an email (since “Friends” here are more “people that won’t be too bothered by a query” than actually friends. Otherwise I might have been tempted to use the phone).
If I want to ask my friends something by email, I’ll need to enter all their email addresses, or pick them from the address-book.
Through Yelp! it’s pretty much the same things, except I don’t see an address book. Maybe once you register you get one with all the addresses you previously used.
If I want to ask in my email about something, I have to laboriously write it down in free text, having to come up with all that grammar and syntax needed to make my question sensible. I can’t just write someone with a line like “restaurant Foo city can’t cook
” and have them understand. I’ll need to make a whole paragraph like “Hi. Listen, you know I can’t cook, and I’m getting hungry. So I was wondering if perhaps you know of a good restaurant someplace in the city of Foo? Thanks a bundle. Oh, and if you don’t know of any, mind asking around for me?
“. That’s work, work, work. Very difficult. (I can
BTW. Cook, I mean. And very well too. This is just a theoretical example. OK?)
With Yelp! on the other hand, you just fill in three boxes on a form, one for what you’re looking for, one for the city, and one for extra info. Then they can spare you all that sentence-building. No reason for you to actually want or need anything more when asking a friend for a recommendation.
OK, onward to step two:
Friends Make Recommendations
Friends will receive your request by email. Then, they recommend a business using Yelp! (sign up is not required).
If they can’t help, they can forward your request to one of their friends.
My friends will receive the request by email, and can recommend a business. If they don’t have a clue, they can forward it onward.
Differences? If I send them an email, my friends have the burden of replying and writing a whole reply, and sending it back to me.
If on the other hand I use Yelp!, instead of the onerous task of pressing the reply button, they can easily click a Yelp! link. And put the reply there. Better yet, my dear friends could then fill in a form with all the required details in the proper fields, not being forced to do this whole free-text routine themselves. Heck, using Yelp! they don’t even have to register! (Oh, wait, same for replying to an email…)
Seems obvious I’ll get more replies if replying requires less work. All the hurdles of writing a line in an email is sure to discourage some people that would be perfectly happy to go to a website and fill up a proper form with fields and everything.
Stating they can reply to one of their friends
is also quite wonderful. Prevents all that avalanche of chain letters I usually see when friends forward my questions to hundreds of people without any semblance of control… (OK, I’m probably just being petty here, I’m sure they didn’t really mean one
. But I can’t be certain, can I?)
Return to Yelp!
When your friends respond, you get an email. Just return to Yelp! to see their recommendations.
Each recommendation includes contact details for the business, a map and your friend’s opinion.
If there are any replies, I get an email. Fine.
If I was just emailing my friends, this email would contain the address and details. And that would be that. Is it really fair to finish the fun so quickly? What will I do with the rest of my free time?!
Since I’m using Yelp!, however, there’s more for me to do. I can go to their website and see the reply, that my friend sent me, there. With whatever pretty colors they can put in their design, and not the dreary email text. Much better.
Ah, but I’m ignoring the really useful part. I’ll get:
- My friend’s opinion. What a novel idea to send me that. How did they think of that?
- Full contact details for the business. That’s good. If I want to call them and ask something I don’t need to open the phone book. And I get the exact business name instead of some sounds-like that my friend would have sent me from memory on the email.
- Map. So I know exactly what it is and how to get there, instead of opening one myself (or going to a mapping site and deciphering the location from the vague “one turn after the big tree” sort of things that my friend would have probably sent me on the email).
Just a slight problem with the last two items here. You might have noticed. The details have to
come from someplace. Now, I won’t claim that there are only two options, but the number is limited:
- The friend enters all the contact details, and exact address for their mapping service to find. This does spare me the work of finding these out. From my friend’s side, however, it forces him/her to do all the hard work. I’m getting a small favour, and require more instead of saying thanks.
- Yelp! connect to external comprehensive maps and contact details providers. The friend use these and partial info to find the exact data. Potentially this can require less work from my friend. It’s still work that I’m the one who is supposed to be doing, since I’m the interested party. And I likely won’t need all the info, so it’s needless work. Incomplete date in their database for some possible businesses is of course not an option worth mentioning. Oops, I just did.
And that’s about it. Even Yelp! agree:
You’ve found what you were looking for. Best of all, recommendations are saved so you can share them with friends.
With Yelp! you’ll always be able to find the best local businesses.
Asking my friends about the best local businesses can sure help me find them. And yes, Yelp! is a way to do that. I’m not so sure about that always
bit, and I’m not so sure Yelp! will help me more than plain old email or phone (IM too. I can ask my friends about local businesses on IM as well).
I’m also not so sure it won’t help me less, overall and all things considered.
Sharing is probably the main advantage, social-networking and all that, you know. They are not too detailed (read: doesn’t say anything last time I checked) on their website about the sharing part, and only slightly more about the questions forwarding part. So I’ll just go on assuming. They’re probably more imaginative than me over there, so I could be wrong, but then again I could be very wrong.
Suppose I ran a search about a business in a city. Suppose I even got an answer. Suppose the system even let me rank the answer (or answers) I get. Now a friend of mine runs the same search. Will it help him? Not likely, he may be using slightly different words, and that’s that. Just read their about
page and you’ll see what I mean. Their CEO will run a search for cheap eats
(at least you know they’re not spending money on salaries) and their CTO for high-end Mexican cuisine
(or maybe they do, but on the IT people, as they should). If I were friends with them, this won’t help me at all, if for example I just want a “nice restaurant”.
And reliability is a major problem. Sure, friends won’t lie to me (Though the kind of “friends” that won’t find it strange I’m using some web service to talk to them instead of a phone or email, those might). But taste varies. A lot
. Some questions I’ll ask certain friends just to know where to stay away from. On the first step, that’s not a problem, I just won’t list them. But on automatic searches to deeper levels of connections? The system can’t know who I trust and who is compatible with me on a new search.
Maybe it asks for any forwarding level. But in this case, it doesn’t help on networking. Choosing manually which people to forward a query to… is exactly what people would do if they got a regular email with the query.
One can only hope that even if it picks old recommendations automatically, it doesn’t automatically send queries to people. That could get very annoying very fast. Especially as you get further away from people you know.
And there is the privacy issue. Some people (myself included) don’t like their friends giving their name and address (email or other) to some company and websites. Doesn’t even matter if you agree, as long as you notice that some of your friends may. So you can’t use those friends when searching through Yelp! or they will send you back a scathing and not too helpful reply. They may know some good places too, though. So you have to send them an email. Well, while you’re sending emails anyway… You can just add some more names to the BCC line and be done with it.
Plus, I don’t like the name. Before today, if someone asked me to name five web sites that put an exclamation mark in their name, I would have very quickly answered “Yahoo!”. Then it would have taken me a lot longer to pick up another. And I probably would have broken down pretty quickly and picked “Yahoo! Mail” and the likes.
And now we have another highly self excited service, with an exclamation mark. And more, the name starts with a Y. Might be nice if they have a gigantic success. People may decide to shorten the name to Y!… Then the lawyers get it, and the fun really start.
Which reminds me, on an unrelated side note, some search engine really have to start indexing punctuation. I can’t run a search to find all places with a “!” character in the title!