Turning YP Sites into Recommendations Engines

By Greg Sterling

I wrote very briefly yesterday that CityVoter’s redesign and new direction was ahead of an emerging trend toward real time recommendations for local. Previously, I said the following about Twitter and Google:

Online I can go to Yelp or Citysearch and look at consensus views and ratings. But in my vision of Twitter’s future I simply query my Twitter network and I get a bunch of responses to the lunch recommendation question. And I get them more or less instantaneously — or in “real time” if you prefer.

There’s also this earlier post, Twitter, Vark & ‘Real-Time’ Local Search:

Not all these services are the same, but conceptually the idea is to leverage human beings to respond to specific questions or queries either in real time or in a near real-time way.  Social search, review sites (e.g., Yelp) and Q&A (e.g., Yahoo Answers, Askville, LinkedIn Q&A) are all versions of offline word-of-mouth recommendations.

The promise of “human-powered search” has been around for several years. However none of the sites promoting that concept have really been successful. We’re just starting to see something more viable crystalize and emerge, in all these sites, which may well represent a successor to traditional search — or perhaps a companion to it.

And in October of 2007 over at Local Mobile Search, I wrote about a service called Mosio (as part of a category we were calling “social directory assistance”):

It can be viewed more broadly as the prototype for the sort of social/mobile/search service destined to be the foundation of a range of local search-based businesses.

Sebastien Provencher yesterday wrote a post introducing Praized’s “newsfeed, real-time search and conversation platform.” It appears to bring together a range of social media tools to YP companies, resulting in a buzz/news feed and Q&A functionality. Yellow Pages Group has apparently implemented part of this in the form of “Yellow Pages Answers“:

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Here’s how Sebastien describes how the service works:

Answers (a “local” Question & Answer service, including a social network broadcast mechanism). Consumers can ask questions to the community and to their Facebook/Twitter friends and all answers come back to a unique page. Merchants can even join the conversation!

Inspired by Facebook and Twitter, it appears that Praized has found a very strong new direction for itself. This is quite powerful, but let’s step back for a moment and look at this functionality in a broader context.

The ability to ask questions of a group on local sites is nothing new. Both InsiderPages and Judy’s Book offered Q&A functionality from near inception (in 2007). It’s no longer on InsiderPages, now owned by IAC. And Judy’s Book has been sold and relaunched. Yelp has had questions and answers for several years as well (though not well integrated into the experience). Trulia and Zillow have very robust communities and Q&A tools in which local real estate agents can participate in conversations or provide answers to consumer questions. Beyond these there are a wide range of pre-existing services, Yahoo! Answers, Amazon’s AskVille, LinkedIn and several others, that also offer Q&A — though not in “real time.”

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So what’s new:

  • The “real-time” (near real time) dimension of Twitter and now Facebook Status updates. (BTW: IM could have done something like this years ago but didn’t)
  • The ability to tap into multiple networks simultaneously because of APIs
  • Perhaps most importantly, Twitter has captured people’s imaginations and helped put a name/label on this phenomenon (”real time” search)

The underlying consumer behavior is simply asking for word of mouth recommendations and is as “old as the hills.” But the ability to efficiently ask many people for advice or a local business referral at once online is new. Reviews were step one; the combination of quasi-real time answers and social networks is an evolution of that phenomenon.

The injection of merchants into the conversation is useful and potentially powerful but something that Trulia, Zillow and Yelp were doing already and which Yelp is now doing more directly. There are other examples out there as well.

Implicit in Sebastien’s post are some very interesting suggestions for the future of yellow pages, which is part of a much longer discussion than I want to get into now. Make no mistake, the integration of Q&A into yellow pages and the ability to tap into other networks are great product enhancements. Conceptually, however, none of these things are truly new, just the packaging and presentation.

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