So who’s doing local search apps on Facebook? What follows is my brief impression of various local apps I’ve used in the past few months. I’m sure my list is incomplete. If I’ve missed something obvious, feel free to add it in the comments.
In my opinion, no one on this list competes with Loladex’s combination of functionality, comprehensive content and usability. Oh, and style. But of course I would think that.
This list is in no particular order.
MojoPages: Based on Jon Carder’s comments (see my earlier post), MojoPages is’t pushing this app anymore. It’s a bit of a shame, because (a) they put some thought into it, improving it since it launched some months ago; and (b) the MojoPages.com site continues to push some social aspects that are, in my opinion, better suited to Facebook than to their standalone version. It’s true that the FB app never got any traffic, and the execution still needs work, but I thought it deserved more promotion than they gave it.
Local Reviews: On its splash page, this app by eSesame claims to be “Facebook’s FIRST and LARGEST Local Reviews App!” Even if this was true once, by some measure, it isn’t anymore. It seems downright moribund, in fact. I find the interface a bit confusing and scattered, and the content is limited to a tight selection of categories and cities. Even in these areas, they don’t have comprehensive data — searching for Chinese restaurants in the Washington, DC area yields a single result, for instance. I guess they have just what their users enter?
Restaurant Reviews: As the name implies, limited to restaurants. This app comes from SuperPages.com, which is certainly a credible source, but it never got off the ground. I’m not sure why they restricted it to a single category since they have the whole phone book at their disposal, literally. The app is presented mostly as a way of browsing places that have reviews: You’ll need to click to uncover a search box. It’s mostly a window into user comments from the regular SuperPages site, so there are few associations with actual Facebook users. Not very social.
Local Picks: From TripAdvisor, the king of hotel reviews. Limited to restaurants, despite the generic name — base data from the worldwide but long-in-the-tooth ChefMoz database, perhaps, supplemented by members? (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) Users appear to be griping that their additions and deletions aren’t processed quickly enough by TripAdvisor, which is also my experience with the TripAdvisor hotel database. Still, it must be said that this is a very nice Facebook app: Deep, engaging, well-designed. They are making an effort, and they have more users than most local apps. TripAdvisor also makes the “Cities I’ve Visited” app, which is far more popular but not nearly as useful.
iVouch: I recall that this app used to be a local thing, where users “vouched” for businesses, but lately it’s about users vouching for each other. The local aspect still exists, but has been subordinated. It’s not particularly useful, in any case, as I can’t search for places that others have vouched for. Or I don’t think I can, anyway. Strange. Either the app isn’t fully conceived or I’m missing something.
Search Local: This is a fairly straightforward Yellow Pages app, except that it doesn’t seem to have much data. (Or maybe its search doesn’t work properly.) Its main distinction is that it wants to broadcast all your searches to your friends’ news feeds. This may or may not be good for virality — not, I’d guess, based on its traffic — but either way it’s a bad idea. No one wants this stuff to be public by default. They have an opt-out checkbox, but it’s easy to forget and I can’t set it to opt out permanently.
DoYa? This app has some of the same ideas as Loladex. They’re trying to jump-start virality by offering $10 Amazon gift cards to people who “share” five recommendations with 10 friends. Depending on how many of those friends become DoYa users, it might make sense. I’m not crazy about the interface, but that’s mostly a matter of taste. They’re on the right track.
Eat It! Is this app working as designed? It’s a restaurant-only product by big ol’ CitySearch, and someone spent time on it, but it lacks all of CitySearch’s deep content for each listing — no information about restaurant hours, no professional reviews, no user ratings, no photos, nothing. Just an address. Whole features like “QuickRate” appear to be pretty much broken, too. Weird. I have a vague memory that it used to work, but until today I hadn’t visited it for months. Maybe its creators haven’t visited lately, either?
Eating: Yet another restaurant-only app, this one by Menuism. It doesn’t take a local-search approach, exactly; it’s got a less utilitarian, more social vibe — more like one of the various “bookshelf” applications on Facebook, where people participate to express themselves and share their interests. Or like Yelp, except with more bona fide social networking. That’s my take, anyway. Like Loladex, it incorporates Facebook networks, which is a good way to open up more friend-like content. Data is far from comprehensive, however, and the sync to the “real” Menuism site seems imperfect.
Restaurants: Bulit by our neighbors in the nation’s capital, Hungry Machine LLC, creators of Visual Bookshelf. Once again, restaurants only. Once again, data is far from comprehensive. Annoying popups that ask me to invite friends. I don’t have many friends on the app, so it’s not clear to me whether their recommendations count more than those of strangers. Be nice if they did. (Anyone know?) Generic food photos are used to illustrate specific restaurants, which can be misleading: Our local chain Ledo Pizza, for instance, is known for its square pizza; they probably aren’t thrilled to be represented by a round pie. I’m not a fan of the overall design, which is busy, but the underlying functionality seems solid.
Following are some other apps that I haven’t used much yet, but that may be worth a look. None are “big” by Facebook standards.
[Added after initial post] Hangouts: OK, so this is Yelp’s application. It’s not a local search, just a way of broadcasting what you’re supposedly doing this evening, with a search that sometimes helps you link to the right listing. It launched fairly soon after the Facebook platform launch, and has the air of a side project rather than a committed effort. Functionality is shallow and requires going to Yelp.com for detail on listings. I could be wrong, but it seems to have been abandoned by Yelp. I assume that if they ever return to Facebook it’ll be with a different approach.
My Restaurants: A modest app that seems like it’s doing many things right.
Eat-a-Rama: Bills itself as the “top-rated restaurant application on Facebook,” whatever that means. At a glance I’m not a fan: Overdesigned & gimmicky. Someone is working hard, though.
iEat: This app doesn’t really appeal to me, either, but it’s a bit interesting because it has a two-level search. If it doesn’t find a restaurant in its database (a likely scenario, it seems), it does an “Internet search” and returns matches from … well, somewhere or other. I enjoyed the stock photos shown for each restaurant; see the one for Domino’s below:
While I’m at it, I should mention a few notable absences:
Yelp: As far as I know, Yelp has no app on Facebook. A few third-party apps try to track or broadcast your Yelp.com activity. See above; thanks, Jon.
Zagat: Zagat has a Facebook app, but it’s for use by restaurants rather than regular folks — the virtual equivalent of putting a “Zagat rated” sticker in your restaurant’s window.
Angie’s List: Not terribly surprising that AL doesn’t have an app; as a subscription site, it doesn’t really translate.
(Continued in Part 3)