Restaurant Social Media and its Immediate Implications (the sheep effect)

What’s happening people? It’s been a slightly long time and I’ve not been saying much so here I am. Back. Again.

I’m on holiday (finally) at the moment y’all, and it’s pretty peachy. I actually get some time to chill and do stuff that I want to do (start companies, update shit, you know the deal). Anyway, while being out here on the West coast of that country with all the little red maple leafed flags, and having to rely on eating out at restaurants to survive (and in no way is that a bad thing…), I have discovered a few new tools/apps/services that make this just a little easier (and more web 2.0 dare I say it). Then again as the copy of Wired that I’m glancing at currently implies (man I love online magazines that let you read things (screw you London Times (not that I ever liked you anyway))) the web is dead anyway. I think in a sentence, it’s getting at the point that people are now prepared to pay for services that were available before, but are now presented in a more reliable and accessible way. Speaking of which, doesn’t this sound like a great way to make money. Present your media in a different manner (e.g. package it in an app (like Wired)) and reap the (70%) cut of the 99p selling price, many times over. You don’t even have to physically write anything different. Then again, you could even do the same but with other people’s media ( – they make the Wired, Vanity Fair and more similar ‘digital edition’ apps I believe), create a template for an application that does this, sell it to the company (or even license it (take a regular (5 – 20%) cut of each app sold), promise tantalising (obtainable ones of course) updates and reap the rewards). Gotta love this system, especially if you’re on the right end of it. Or at least if you’ve picked up the right end of it before other people catch on (monopoly bitches…).

Anyway, following on from this theme, and talking about my hard life having to eat solely from food that was made by other people (sources tell me that it’s a plight of everyday North Americans (at least for some)). How do you know where’s good? You could go around a town (which could be a city – it really depends where you are, but we don’t want the geographical location to come into this, much) and see which places are busy. You’d get a rough indication from this. It would give you a few ideas as to where’s hawt (sic), but then again you could get led down by the sheep effect (I’m not actually sure if this is an official (?!) effect, but you get the idea (following people)). A tourist finds a place and goes along, sees that it’s slightly busy (by looking at the other lost and bewildered tourists there) and goes it. It repeats. And by gosh, location (of the eatery that is) helps with this. A lot.

So avoiding looking around anywhere what do you do? Take a guidebook (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s etc.) and read what the ‘best’ is? Yes, it would probably work. But then again the writer of that review may be there just to get a name of a place to go in this small town that you’re in because his publisher/editor/higher power told him that he needs one restaurant at least to recommend. It may be terrible, but then again he’s submitted a place. Chances are the publisher/editor/higher power will never go, and so his job will be safe. N.B. I have nothing against guidebooks by the way. This example was purely figurative and to prove a point. Continuing from this theme, tourists (with heads stuck in guidebooks obv) would go along and recreate the sheep effect. Again.

So taking what the social web (think 2.0, but more vague) god has given us, and using it wisely, you come to things like wikitravel. You see it, and think—”Wow, a free guidebook, on the internet (!), it must be good.” Chances are that it is. It could be a lifesaver if you’re in a new city, with no eyes (for the (first mention of the) sheep effect to take place clearly), no money for a (braille) guidebook and only the internet (spoken with Voiceover obviously). This could be of use. Then again, we know Wikipedia, and that any idiot can edit it. In this case there’s even a motive for certain restaurants (web savvy ones by the way) to edit it and big up their restaurant. So there’s (or there are, more correctly) many ways for this to be bad, and wrong. Use your chances wisely.

An evolution from this point is therefore something in which all can contribute (Wikipedia), all can voice their opinions (both on the restaurant (although arguably I’ve already mentioned that) and on the opinions of the contributors (as in rate and comment reviews)) and with no lingering bias in the system (a review system spearheaded by McDonalds is likely to be less successful than one done by Michelin). The first two criteria should be easy to implement, look at Amazon’s review system. The final criterion is harder, it requires a watchdog so to speak, but then again in this day and age I believe that there may be some self-policing/self-effacing systems out there. It’s just a matter of predicting the movement/correctness of the so called ‘sheep’, and whether the general flock will filter out the crap from the few (if you’ll excuse my metaphor). It’s all game theory. Simples.

Anyway, for the moment, in all this web/social-scene/online mishmash I discovered Yelp. It’s far from perfect, but it’s going the right way for sure. It covers the review aspect well. And currently has an app. Anyone can review a restaurant (regardless of whether they’ve been there or not?!), and there’s a limited rating systems for the reviews (though I don’t believe that there’s any bias in the reviews to promote/exclude accordingly (yet!)). It also has some limited policing, in fact there’s a company behind it (they happen to be the company that set it up unsurprisingly * ), though I’ve no idea how well they do their job. An app store review of their app hinted at someone (probably the app reviewer) leaving a bad review and the restaurant complaining to have that review taken down (and getting it done). Surely this ruins the point of the whole system. I guess there are haters everywhere. But the iPhone app is nice, especially with the location-centric side of it, displaying nearby restaurants, filtering by price, distance, rating and opening times. If only it didn’t display restaurants that had closed down, and if everyone used it. Truth be told though, it has provided some nice places to eat in an otherwise unknown area. I can’t wait for it’s evolution.

* The point that I’m trying to make here (albeit badly) is that it’s not a framework, but a web company. Hence the inability to self source (or even open source) improve what’s there. Then again I think a company behind something like this is necessary—especially if it’s one that I had started and had been taking the revenue stream of (I haven’t by the way, sadly).

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