SiliconFilter

Kevin Rose’s Oink: Stop Rating Places – Rate the Stuff Inside Them Instead

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Oink, the first product to come out of Digg-founder Kevin Rose‘s Milk project, launched on iOS earlier this week. At this point, the thought of seeing yet another location-based app that lets you rate things may induce some involuntary yawning in you. After testing it for a while now, though, I have to say that while I was highly skeptical of trying yet another app in this space, Oink actually puts enough of a twist on the genre to be interesting and to become a potential challenger to similar services like Foursquare (or even Yelp) in the long run.

The big difference between Oink and Foursquare or Yelp is that Oink doesn’t focus on places so much as on the things inside them. Instead of rating a local restaurant, for example, you would rate the pizza you had there. While it uses your location to make it easier for you to tag your discoveries, it doesn’t bother you with pointless check-ins.

Oink ios discoverThe app features the usual fixings you would expect from this kind of service: an activity stream, the ability to discover popular things around you, access to your profile and, of course, the ability to add your own ratings, photos and comments. While the app is extremely well designed, though, the real game-changer here isn’t so much the app itself, but the idea that users care more about finding interesting things or the best coffee around than the best restaurant or store

Rate Anything

In many ways, adding this granularity to these kinds of apps is really the next evolutionary step. After all, that cool coffee shop where all the hipsters hang out with their Macbook Airs may make a mean espresso, but may not actually make that great iced coffee you really want right now. While it clearly looks forward, though, Oink is also a throwback to the old days of Web 2.0, as its tagging system lets users tag virtually anything with any tag without imposing any clear structure.

Oink also goes beyond location by allowing you to rate and tag virtually anything. There is plenty of talk about books and games on the system right now, for example.

As users rate more items related to tags they are using, they will gain “cred.” This ramification element may attract some of the more competitive folks out there, but there are no Foursquare-like discounts to be had yet (which in return means you don’t have to worry about retaining your mayorship either, of course).

Verdict

Overall, then, Oink puts enough of a twist on this genre to be interesting – something that can’t be said about most of the new entrants in this oversaturated market for ratings+photo sharing apps. As any new service, it suffers from the fact that there isn’t much of a community on it yet – especially if you don’t live in San Francisco – but I’ve got a feeling that it will quickly attract a very dedicated following.



5:30 pm


Google Places Hotpot Attacks Yelp and Co. with Openness

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Chances are that if you want to rate a local business, your first destination will be Yelp or a similar service. Google, however, has been steadily adding its own ratings services to its portfolio. The oddly named Google Hotpot – which is now deeply integrated into Google Places – is Google’s most direct Yelp competitor. Starting today, Google Places users will get better access to their rating there, as well as the ability to import any GeoRSS feed from other services like Foursquare to their Hotpot/Google Places profile. In addition, users can also grab a feed of their Google Places rating and import it elsewhere. While I can’t think of a service that actually could make good use of these feeds right now, chances are we will see other services that will allow users to import that data soon.

Given that GeoRSS feeds are tagged with GPS coordinates and not the actual name of the location, Google will, “as best as we’re able to determine,” present you with a place card for the business the lines up best with these coordinates.

Being able to import Foursquare data, for example, should make it easier for Places users to add more ratings to the system, which in turn, of course, also means the Google will have more ratings to add to its own product.

Smart Idea – But Will Users Bite?

It’s hard not to look at this and think that Google hopes to compete with Yelp and similar services by being more open and allowing more of its data to flow in and out of the system. This, to me, sounds like a smart plan, though given that the current setup involves copying and pasting the addresses of RSS feeds, I doubt that many mainstream users will make use of it. Mainstream users have famously ignored RSS feeds for years, so chances are few will use this import/export feature.



6:00 pm


Is Groupon Asking Merchants to Write Fake Yelp Reviews? (Updated)

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In a post on his blog Venture Level today, entrepreneur Romil Patel describes his experiences with running Groupon and LivingSocial deals. Overall, his experience with Groupon was not exactly positive, but what struck me while reading his account was that the Groupon representative he worked with asked him to create positive Yelp reviews for his own business.

Here is the relevant part from the post:

Later on, after the terms were accepted by me, my rep emails me and asks me to create Yelp reviews for my QSR [quick service restaurant], by having either my employees write how good my QSR is or having my “best” customers write them. I’m not too sure, but I’m confident this has to be against Yelp’s terms of service since this would be considered creating fake and biased reviews. Needless to say- I thought this was an ethics issue, and I didn’t do it.

Indeed, self-reviews are obviously against Yelp’s terms of service and rather unethical. It is striking that a Groupon representative would ask merchants to do this in the first place. Groupon often features excerpts from positive Yelp reviews when it advertises deals and this behavior immediately renders all of these reviews suspect.

It is hard to say if this is something other Groupon representatives do as well, or if this representative just went rogue. As Patel himself notes, maybe the Groupon representative he dealt with was just not up to par (he had numerous other issues with him as well).

I have asked Groupon for a statement and will update this post once I hear back.

Update (4/22 12:40pm PT): A Groupon spokesperson responded with the following statement:

We never ask merchants to falsify online reviews with those from their best customers or employees. We do use sites like Yelp and Citysearch to provide credible third-party reviews of the merchants we feature; if a merchant doesn’t have any, it’s difficult for us to run them because our customers expect that third-party approval. We will note this to the merchant and encourage them to ask *all* customers to post Yelp reviews, positive or negative. We’re much more likely to run a deal when we know our subscribers can make an educated purchase.



9:32 pm


Google Enlists Twitter in Hopes of Making Hotpot Go Viral

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It’s hard to estimate just exactly how successful (or not) Google Hotpot, the company’s recently launched Yelp competitor, really is. Thanks to its integration with Google Maps and Google Places, it’s likely more popular than Google Buzz, though, and judging from the increase in ratings from Google users we’ve seen on Google Places lately, it’s probably working out well for Google. The company wants more publicity for Hotpot, however. Starting today, Google also lets you syndicate your ratings for local businesses from the Google Maps Android app to Twitter, marking this one of the first times that Google has enlisted Twitter in its tools to not just pull in information but also to syndicate it out.

The functionality itself is pretty straightforward. Users who rate local businesses in the Google Maps Android app will get a choice to post their reviews to Twitter. Tweets will include a goo.gl-shortened link that point to the Google Places page for the specific business.

Also New: Google Latitude Wants to Make Meeting up in Person Easier

Another update to the Google Maps Android app today brings an interesting new feature to the Google Maps app that allows you to send messages to those friends who checked-in on Google Latitude recently and meet up with them in person without having to send multiple text messages. Instead of having to call or text them, you can just “ping” them to ask them where they are now. They will then receive a notification on their phone, allowing them to check in at a place where they would like to meet up with you.

This feature sounds a bit like the upcoming version of EchoEcho. The disadvantage of Google’s implementation of this, though, is that your friends have to be on an Android phone as well and the procedure for setting up in-person meetings doesn’t feel very intuitive so far.



9:46 am


What's the Point of Checking In?

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I used to think that location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and all of their clones represented the next big thing in mobile. The reality, however, is that even though these companies are still growing (or at least say they are), I just can’t figure out why I should continue to check in when I arrive at a restaurant or bar. As of now, I am getting absolutely zero value out of checking in.

Maybe it doesn’t help that not a single one of my friends outside of the tech blogosphere bubble uses any of these services (they don’t use Twitter either, by the way). But even then, what value would I get out of seeing that they are at a certain restaurant or bar nearby right now? It’s not like I’ll go there and ruin their romantic evening by sitting at their table. 

Lots of Badges but No Real-World Value

And don’t get me started about the “game mechanics” (which – at least for location-based services is really just code for “badges“). If the only value I get out of checking in is a virtual badge, then taking the phone out of my pocket to check in is clearly not worth the calories I burn in the process. Also, at least here in Portland, the promise of coupons for mayors hasn’t materialized yet (or at least not at the places I frequent). Even if it did – I’m not a regular anywhere, so becoming the mayor of anywhere but my house is out of the question anyway.

For the time being, I’m not getting enough value out of using Foursquare, Gowalla and the rest of them to make checking in worthwhile. Maybe that will change at some point, but for now, I’m checking out.

What’s Your Experience?

What about you? Are you still checking in or has ‘check-in fatigue’ set in for you as well? If you are still checking in, what’s the value you are getting out of it?


12:52 pm