Grayboxx Now National, Adds Reviews

Grayboxx is something of a paradox. At its core is a great idea and a real need: a way to use consumer actions and implicit recommendations to broaden the available ratings for local businesses across categories and geographic markets. The company won’t reveal precisely the methodology behind its “PreferenceScore” rankings because that’s the “secret sauce.” But it does offer FAQs and a general overview of how ratings are generated.

But that system is both the strength and weakness of the site, and the lack of transparency is the site’s biggest challenge. Grayboxx doesn’t have a trusted brand and the scores are largely “opaque.” There’s also not a lot of content or context currently around the scores and listings. So the methodology that enables Grayboxx to offer more ratings across more categories in more places, and be competitively different in that regard, is precisely the issue: some users don’t know “what’s behind” its ratings.

Most people aren’t going to systematically compare listings across sites (i.e., Yahoo!, Citysearch, Yelp, etc.) and categories to see how Grayboxx stacks up. So the site needs to find alternative ways to build trust and confidence for users. One of the ways, ironically, that Grayboxx is seeking to do that is by adding traditional user reviews to business detail pages as part of the national launch, which is officially being announced today.

Here’s an example for a search on “appliance repair” in “San Mateo, CA”:

Grayboxx 1

Grayboxx 2

Reviews come from IAC’s Citysearch and InsiderPages. Even though they’re only excerpted, their presence should give Grayboxx users more confidence in its PreferenceScore algorithm, which the company says has been improved in several ways for the national launch.

Grayboxx understood months ago, before its “beta” launch, that it would be challenging to go head-to-head with more established competitors in top US metro areas. Accordingly, it adopted a “secondary markets” strategy and put out press releases in scores of those markets as it “launched” in each. Grayboxx founder Bob Chandra says that the company has seen some traction in those markets and is encouraged by the progress there.

However, the site will need to further evolve if it is to have staying power. InsiderPages and Judy’s Book were put on the block by their boards because growth wasn’t fast-enough or the outlook was murky. But local requires patience (or luck or both).

If Grayboxx can be patient and can continue to upgrade the site and user experience, which I believe needs to be “warmed up,” it has a chance to gain broader usage and adoption over time.

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What do others think? Have you used Grayboxx? Does it compare favorably?

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12 Responses to “Grayboxx Now National, Adds Reviews”

  1. Mike Blumenthal Says:

    It seems to me that Grayboxx does not provide either breadth or depth of its various competitors at least in large urban or very rural environments.

    In my limited rural testing it seemed to be lacking accurate and thorough categorization like Google seems to be able to offer. So the results were very thin in a number searches.

    When I was looking for neighborhood results in larger urban areas it does not provide good results. In that same context the ratings also don’t have the believability of a Yelp…with Yelp you can almost sense the intention of the reviewer and take that into account..Grayboxx is an apt description of the sense of the ratings from Grayboxx…they seem diffuse and generated by the proverbial black box….

    When I travel I frequently use some combination of Yelp and Google and this product doesn’t seem to compete with either Yelp for depth and sincerity or Google for the breadth and completeness.

    I did not test in their target market of midsized cities and perhaps there they will get traction as Yelp doesn’t really offer much. But in the very small cities with 8 to 10 restaurants or 15 plumbers who needs ratings. You already know who the best plumbers are, its just a matter whether they will deign to come or not :)

    An A for effort but Greyboxx doesn’t cut it from my perspective.

    Mike Blumenthal

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thorough as always, Mike :)

  3. troy Says:

    I don’t get this site at all and seems strange that nobody is critical of the notion of some sort of secret algorithms for ratings. Algorithms work for Google because the results are self evident. This company just want to put a score besides a business and we are suppose to believe it. Are users really that simple and stupid?

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    Nobody truly knows what’s in google’s weighted algorithm. However it works well enough that people accept and don’t question it — except for some marketers and SEO types.

    Grayboxx doesn’t want to be too specific because the elements of the algorithm and methodology behind the ratings is their competitive differentiator. Not defending; rather explaining the logic.

  5. Matt McGee Says:

    I understand they don’t want to be too specific, but they’re going to have to be if they hope to earn any credibility. “Trust us” isn’t the right approach to explaining a ranking system.

    As far as the site itself goes, I suppose I live in a small- to mid-sized DMA. It did fairly well on some searches, quite poorly on others, great on none.

    On “real estate”, the first 5-6 results are probably the most successful brokerages around — but there was one agency missing (the #2 agency in the area).

    On “real estate agent”, it only served up two actual agents. The other listings were less popular brokerages and, unfathomably, the local irrigation district at #6 and the US government at #10. Seriously – it said “U.S. Government”.

    On “restaurants” the first restaurant listed had a big margin over #2, but is not one that anyone in this area beats down the door to dine at. The really popular restaurants were lower in the rankings. The #1 restaurant, however, is attached to a popular hotel, so I’m guessing that must have an impact on the restaurant’s rank.

  6. Greg Sterling Says:

    Matt:

    An interesting question is how should they present their algorithm (copy/discussion) or context around it to create confidence in it — putting aside the results for a moment?

  7. troy Says:

    When it comes to ratings and review, it does not matter what the algorithm is. The most important thing is the methodology of the testing. The methodology has to be transparent, logical, and quantifiable. Can you imagine a car magazine rating cars with just a score beside each car with no explanation or details or worst, they used the color of each car as a major factor in the scoring.

  8. Greg Sterling Says:

    Agree re cars. But most people know nothing about JD Power and Associates ratings or the methodology behind them. They simply know that the org. is “independent”‘ (in theory).

    But I’d ask the same question of you that I asked of Matt above: how should they present their algorithm (copy/discussion) or context around it to create confidence in it?

  9. troy Says:

    Greg, the bottom line of this Company reminds me of companies that claimed that have a device that will improve a car milage by 100%. Industry pundits like you should be very critical of companies that do not pass the smell test. I know sometimes there is a fine line between poo poo on an ideal prematurely and saying this is totally stupid. Anyways, the good news is that the natural selection mechanism of our market place will determine what’s good or bad eventually. Peace.

  10. Greg Sterling Says:

    I’m not defending the approach, I’m genuinely curious how a company that wants to “protect its sources” should discuss how they do this. I’ve been critical of their efforts in the past but I try to be even handed and thoughtful rather than just dismissing things that don’t work out of the gate.

    Here’s my previous coverage of Grayboxx:

    http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/061022-235811

    http://searchengineland.com/070827-083333.php

    http://gesterling.wordpress.com/2007/08/25/grayboxx-about-to-go-live/

  11. Dan Endy Says:

    Perhaps I’m simple, it’s been argued before, but from a 50,000-foot level I just wonder how effective a site like this can ever be? Leaving aside the lack of transparency or questions about the site’s algorithms what I wonder is do people care about what strangers think? Again, I may be old school but as long as I have the resources to enlist a recommendation from someone I know, I will always choose that route. Always; regardless of what that entails. With sites like LinkedIn now offering this type of feature (http://blog.kelseygroup.com/index.php/2008/01/16/linkedin-as-new-age-yellow-pages/) I just don’t know why someone would invest too much faith in people they don’t know and trust? Please tell me if I’m missing something here because on the surface — I don’t get it.

  12. Greg Sterling Says:

    So the “services” directory that the post references has been around since 10/06. See: http://gesterling.wordpress.com/2006/10/16/linkedin-becomes-a-services-directory-too/

    I agree that trust is a key element. LinkedIn however is going to drive referrals in selected categories and not in others. Trust can exist on a site without personal relationships among users. Think Craigslist for example. There’s an aura of trust there even though it’s not a “network” per se and people don’t know each other.

    Trust also exists on Yelp because of transparency and social networking elements.

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