When I was speaking to IAC’s Dinesh Moorjani about the Citysearch Android app late last week, we discussed the idea that reviews were moving toward “commodity” status. While this clearly isn’t true across the board it’s already be true in the restaurants and hotels categories, for example. Take this restaurant review on Yelp (click to enlarge graphic):
There are 187 reviews of this (very good restaurant) in San Francisco. In other than “high consideration” scenarios, I’m only interested in the reviews summary (or maybe the two most recent reviews). Thus Yelp’s trends/summary tools become my focus rather than the reviews themselves.
We can discuss and debate when you might look more closely at reviews (dentist, roofer, etc.); however the paradox is: the more reviews there are the less they matter in a way.
It used to be very difficult to get reviews — and still is for many sites — this is what helped build Yelp and its brand: breadth and density of reviews. However when there are 100, 300 even 500 reviews people don’t have time to go through them and they (individually) have less value. Citysearch argues that editorial content and enabling the SMBs to “have a voice” on the site become differentiators in this new environment. (Yelp allows businesses to respond to reviews; it’s a bit different from what Citysearch is doing.)
While Yelp has a strong, engaged community it becomes relatively easy in selected categories for Google, for example, to duplicate this summary/sentiment analysis function:
So as we get more reviews for more businesses over time, from a consumer perspective, other things start to factor in: my network’s opinion or accessing word of mouth for very specific recommendations.
To varying degrees Facebook, GoodRec, Aardvark, Twitter (to some degree) and the new AlikeList contemplate this less anonymous, more “trusted recommendations” scenario. Yelp too has been connecting people on its site. And Citysearch integrated Facebook Connect some time ago, so that I could see who among my friends was on the site.
The reason that Yelp didn’t show me my “friend’s reviews” or allow “sort by friends” is because there weren’t enough reviews to make that functionality meaningful. Here’s my paraphrase of Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman’s previous explanation of why they didn’t initially pursue this approach:
He reminded me that very few people actually create content, despite the popularity of reviews, which typically means that your friends won’t have written anything about most of the businesses you’re interested in. He also said that services that ping your network when you have a request are also going to be challenging because some people aren’t going to want to receive emails all the time (see Facebook fatigue).
AlikeList is betting that it has removed the barriers to content creation and will be able to build enough usage and community to make this “trusted recommendations” functionality meaningful.
We may not be there but we eventually will be entering a period where reviews about everything are everywhere and people look to “secondary” tools (top lists) or analysis (ratings summaries) to make decisions. Comparable to Yelp’s ratings summary feature, I always point to Amazon’s “most helpful/most critical” review capsule in this discussion:
This is the future to some degree. Reviews will always be important (even essential) but they become less of a differentiator over time. Here’s where Grayboxx’s methodology might be relevant; however the execution was very awkward and the site was probably too early.
Some quick final thoughts:
- More reviews across categories means Google can crawl, capture and present these summaries (bad news for competitors)
- Lists and tools that get me to the “best,” “most popular,” “most recommended” become essential as a first step; then I drill down into reviews if I need more detail and information
- Q&A tools and connecting actual people or being able to query the community become more important as well (Yelp, Yahoo Local and Yellow Pages Group do have this today; working to varying degrees)
- Other site content and functionality become important to complement reviews
- Brand and trust matter (getting reviews from Yelp might be preferable to getting them from a less well-known site that offers reviews and shows up in Google results for the same query)
What do you think about all this and the basic question of whether reviews are moving toward “commodity status”?