A couple of years ago I did a project to spec out what the “next generation” directory product would look like. I spoke a good deal about Yelp and what has now come to be known as “social media.” There were recommendations as well about content, distribution and so on. If I were to do that project today I might say some additional things about Facebook and Twitter, as well as the growing importance of mobile.
Late last week I got a tour of new site AlikeList, yet another competitor to enter the local consumer destination game. My general inclination is to say there’s no more room and to ask what can anyone bring that hasn’t already been done. But the folks behind the site, who include Jim Delli Santi (once of SBC yellow pages and later Yahoo!) and now Mark Law (most recently of MapQuest but before that Yahoo!), have built something that sits right at the nexus of “local” and “social.” Another way to see it is as “An IYP for the “Twitter era.”
At first blush the site looks very much like a traditional “local search” or IYP site. Do a search for “window repair” and the results look like this:
Taking a look at this page you might even say, “Hey, where are the reviews?” and be inclined to dismiss it as just a thin “database of listings.” Look closer; the social media functionality makes this site very interesting and will all but guarantee that it gains adoption.
On the call Jim Delli Santi told me several times that his revelation was that local was fundamentally about “people and relationships” and not technology. Nothing here exactly is new but they’ve put all the pieces together in a very compelling way — at least I think so.
Many local competitors have tried to add a “friends filter” to local sites, either on their own destination sites (e.g., GoodRec) or as an app on Facebook or by incorporating Facebook Connect (e.g., Citysearch). But AlikeList does this in a more “organic” and elegant way.
At the core of the site is list-making, rather than reviews. People create lists of favorites (“likes”) and businesses to “try.” These lists can be annotated with short notes to provide color. In the absence of full-blown reviews you gain confidence in the business because of the ranking (by likes) in a low consideration case (e.g., restaurant) or by who recommends it, in a higher consideration scenario (e.g., home contractor). There are other sites that offer lists and popularity rankings (e.g., LivingSocial and CityVoter). Again, no single element is new here; it’s the way these guys have brought all the pieces together that is very thoughtful.
Below are the results of a restaurant search in San Francisco, ranked by “likes.”
If there’s no one that I know among the recommenders, I can still see the businesses ranked by popularity. Of course, this raises the proverbial “chicken and egg” problem. Given that the site is just out today and there are few users, where will the content come from that will get people to use the site and participate? After all nobody wants to show up at a party that hasn’t started yet, right?
AlikeList is mindful of this and has built in a wide range of social/viral features that will expose the site to other people in one’s own community. The barriers to participation are also quite low; I can “like” a business with a click and then, if I want, offer a quick note to remind myself of something about the business or provide information to others:
While most directory sites have lists or favorites of one sort or another, this functionality is typically something of an afterthought and certainly not the centerpiece of the site.
Interestingly, AlikeList can be used as a “memory aid” or “to-do list” of sorts. The “try” list functionality is very interesting: these are businesses that I want to remember for the future, that other people have recommend. But this data can factor into the AlikeList algorithm as well as the “likes.” In addition, there are all kinds of popularity lists (a la CityVoter) that can be produced as the site grows and gains more content.
Any business can be shared with friends or contacts (pretty standard now) but you can also “Ask Friends” for a recommendations; they don’t already have to be on the site:
Interestingly, this is how Yelp began before it morphed into its current form.
There are a range of features and suggestions that I raised during the call that aren’t on the site. Jim Delli Santi and Mark Law responded in almost every case that these were things on their roadmap or planed for v. 1.5.
We spoke about the business model and advertising at some length as well. Those who’ve listed or “like” a business (think Twitter follow) can receive messages or promotions directly from SMBs. For the SMB the site becomes a list-building tool of a different sort (think Twitter or email marketing). They can message and make offers to customers and prospects or everyone accordingly. MerchantCircle offers this functionality as well.
Delli Santi has thought quite a bit about the site as a CRM platform for SMBs — again relationships are the theme.
There are features in here for new businesses that want to attract customers and for businesses that have existing customers and want to stimulate demand or new purchases. And because people generally don’t discuss what they don’t like about a business — the focus is on likes — there isn’t the familiar challenge of how to deal with negative or critical reviews. (One could argue critical feedback is good for businesses if it’s not gratuitous.) Critical information may enter into some of the comments but the “culture” being built here is focused on favorites.
Mobile is coming of course. That will be especially important for people who use the site to remind themselves of their favorites out in the world.
Let’s step back. Before the comments come in that point out the other sites that also do this or that, no feature here is unique or particularly new. But the way these guys have conceived and put the site together is very strong and the totality does amount to something new.
I would encourage others to take a close look at what they’ve done. This is a site that has a lot going on, yet consumers can “get” it quickly and there are low barriers to participation. Oh . . . and they just got $5 million from Syncom Venture Partners.