Imagine you’re in another city and looking for a bite to eat. You pull out your mobile device, hold it up and on the screen appears names of the restaurants surrounding you, with their types, ratings, approximate meal costs and directions. Then clicking on a specific restaurant’s link takes you to more information.
Sound like something out of the future? The future is now, thanks to Yelp … if you have the right device. If you don’t have the right device, it still works pretty well.
Currently, Yelp’s monocle function (described above) is only available on devices like the iPhone 3.0 with a video interface. Developers even had to hide the function as an Easter Egg to get it into Apple’s app store, noted in this Mashable article (includes video of monocle at work). As the monocle function gains in availability, providing an entree to the sure-to-be-big augmented reality phase of geotagging, this could really be a game-changer.
Whether or not you have the monocle, Yelp provides all kinds of information on businesses around you. If you’re looking for fast food, elegant slow food or ethnic fare — or other goods and services — you’ll find options under the Nearby function. A starred review system tells what users think. A $ rating system tells what to expect to pay. A compass-like function, tied to your device’s GPS, tells you where to find your destination.
Since Yelp generates the basic information, you don’t have to worry about the bad data issue of Gowalla. And while Foursquare also offers reviews, Yelp tying to your phone’s GPS — to say nothing of potential augmented reality feature — gives this service a leg up despite Foursquare’s greater current popularity.
Yelp also lets users in on special deals available to its businesses partners. “I like that instead of having one ‘Mayor’ like Foursquare, Yelp allows people to become ‘regulars’ at locations,” explains Seth Odell, media relations assistant at UCLA. “It seems like a lot more fun and inclusive, rather than exclusive, approach.” Let me reiterate this key point: Social media works best when inclusive, so that Foursquare skews toward exclusive benefits for the singular mayor of any location runs against the grain.
Fred Vigeant, assistant general manager for content at Oswego NPR affiliate WRVO, has the monocle function but also enjoys creating reviews for others. “I like how I’m helping build up a local network of reviews in our area” to help if “someone from out of town comes to visit and is looking for some information,” he says. “I also like how you can follow certain reviewers. This feature is nice because maybe they have similar taste and can suggest new places to explore.”
Jacqueline Lalande, who works for Solar Energy Systems in New York City, likes “that the reviews are passion based. You have to really care about how much you liked or didn’t like a place if you’re going to get online and post about it. This is a great way to get a feel for a place, as I like that it’s an everyday person’s opinions.”
But while reviews are easy to find, Yelp (very curiously) won’t let you contribute one from your mobile device. “While I can check in and upload a location photo, Yelp doesn’t allow people to write reviews from their phones,” Odell notes. “If I could make my entire Yelp experience mobile (writing and commenting on reviews, uploading photos, etc.) then I would be more likely to do that while at the location and to check in in the process.”
A drawback for higher education is the service’s genesis via Yellow Pages listings. Generally, a college has only limited listings, thus you would have to work with Yelp to get them to generate listings for, say, dining halls, specific schools and departments, residence halls or other aspects of the campus experience … if you’re brave enough for the feedback. I haven’t yet seen a college who has worked this out. And it’s worth noting Yelp has four different overall listings for my college with different names, which certainly leads to confusion and data diffusion.
As for benefits to businesses, some exist already. “Finding reviews of bars and restaurants are the most utilized function. However, I could see a use for other businesses to jump on the program and … see what the crowd thinks of them,” Vigeant says.
“Businesses are already on there and I like that,” Lalande notes. For colleges and harder-to-define services, Yelp has potential, as “it’s almost like a message board … which has its good and bad points. You’ll get your good comments, but you also run the risk of people giving it a bad rating.”
For businesses as well as higher ed, Odell thinks Yelp — and geotagging in general — still isn’t there yet. “People talk about how rewarding people for checking in is attractive to businesses, but I don’t see that,” he says. “Sure it’s nice to encourage customers to become regulars, but in the end you are providing discounts to a customer who was already coming. The only way I see advertising becoming successful is if they approach it as a way to attract new customers, not simply build a stronger bond with current ones.”
Building bonds — with other users and with establishments favorite and unfamiliar — remains the big draw to geotagging, so we can’t underestimate its future. Since, as this series has shown, each comes with different drawbacks, neither Foursquare, Gowalla nor Yelp seem like that killer app that will become that next service with Facebook-style popularity. But the potential is there if some of these apps merge. Or if a developer can build a better mousetrap, the world may beat a bath to his or her door … since, with geotagging, we’ll know exactly where to find it.