February 15, 2010

Let Me Tell You What I Think

Sharing personal opinions is the basis for many conversations in my life. From who should be voted off [insert reality TV show of choice] to where we should go to dinner, my friends and I are rarely reluctant to voice an opinion. Sometimes, like when debating a political candidate, that opinion matters, but most of the time we're ranting about an awful movie or debating the top 5 all-time Celtics players not because that opinion "matters", but because we believe that opinion is right... and that everyone else should agree with it.

Should I go to that new restaurant in the South End? Let me ask around. Does Avatar really have a shot at best picture? Let's debate. Best pizza in Boston? I'll fight you if you don't think it's Santarpio's.

Recently though, a funny thing has happened in terms of where these conversations have started taking place. Now as I look to make decisions, my go to source of information isn't anyone who I've ever met before, but the vast community of the internet. Online opinions, or user reviews, started innocently with a few folks documenting their experiences and sharing them online. Now, it's a multi-million dollar business. I don't know about you, but with pretty much any decision I make these days, I consult the web. Whether I turn to Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes or simply do a Google search, I know that someone else had bought/done/seen/gone/tried whatever it is I'm about to do. So why go in blind?

And now, it's easier than ever with a recent explosion of innovative new spins on the user review. Here are a few of the biggest new kids on the block:

  • Four Square and Gowalla
    • Two location-based 'games'? that reward real-life check-ins with virtual rewards. Wherever you go, check-in using one of these mobile apps and accrue points/badges/stamps to either become mayor of that location (Four Square) or work your way up the top ten list (Gowalla). Find out where your friends are, and what they think of the place they're at.
      • Four Square ('Check-in. Find your friends. Unlock your city'?) has recently partnered with Harvard University, Zagat, Conde Nast and Bravo among others for content integration.
      • Gowalla ("Go out. Go discover. Go share. Gowalla.'?) recently received $8.4MM in a second round of venture fundraising
      • Yelp recently responded to the growing popularity of these apps (and other newcomers like myTown) by adding location based check-ins to their application. Looks like the battle for GPS fueled reviews/gaming is on.
  • Aardvark
    • 'The first Social Search engine: a way to find people, not web pages, that have specific information.'?
      • How it works? Send in a question, Aardvark finds the 'perfect person'? to answer it and in minutes you'll get a personal response sent directly to you. A user's question, 'where's a good happy hour in Austin, TX'? is served up to a network of individuals who may be able to respond ' i.e., someone who lives in Austin, someone who likes $2 well drinks, or someone who went to UT back in the day.
      • Just purchased by Google for $50MM.
  • Dorthy.com
    • 'Your search is over'?¦ it's time to get **it done.'?
      • How it works? Users create Dreampages by entering a question, statement or phrase such as 'complete my first triathlon'?. This creates a 'Living Search'? query that searches the web 24/7 to seek out the most relevant content, and based on the user's activity, it continues to customize results with each interaction.

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