I spent the last column questioning the veracity of Yelp reviews and doubting the future of user-generated content (UGC) on that most trafficked of UGC sites. In fact, I was probably so harsh that it may have seemed like I hate UGC entirely. I don’t. I just hate UGC that is easily gamed and encourages the worst aspects of human nature – fawning frippery or obnoxious snarkiness. Further, a hyper-local reviews site that allows anyone to post a review, even from the comfort of their body-shop cube in Bangalore, makes it hard to trust the information proffered.
But here’s the thing. Like everyone else, I need to know where to eat when I cross the threshold of my house. Increasingly, I have turned to Foodspotting.com for advice in this matter. And I think Foodspotting is a great example of UGC done right. The basic concept behind Foodspotting is that dishes or specific foods are far more important than restaurants. Boy are they right. Even the hottest five-star joint has some dishes that fall flat or are less enjoyable. So the core of Foodspotting is a free smartphone app that allows people to snap images of dishes and upload them to Foodspotting.com with a quick description of why the dish is so good.
I am hopeful that they put in place a system that *only* allows reviews to be uploaded from within the restaurant itself – which would really raise the fakery bar to the roof.
Users can follow other users or can follow places, types of food and other things. This guide is at its essence visual so photographs are required. People do vote up reviews and dishes they love but it’s nothing like Yelp – there are no negative reviews allowed. So restaurants could try to game the system by hiring someone to upload cell phone images of their dishes along with descriptions but this raises the bar just enough to make gaming the system harder. Also, each reviewer would have to post a different image – another way to raise the bar higher. So multiple reviews on the same dish would require more images that are markedly different.
Right now, Foodspotting remains small enough that I don’t believe it is being gamed. I may be wrong. And as it grows in popularity, people will try to game it. No doubt. I am hopeful that they put in place a system that *only* allows reviews to be uploaded when the phone in question is located at the restaurant or food establishment itself – which would really raise the fakery bar to the roof. I assume that’s in the works. I think if Yelp did the same, they would be much stronger. Meanwhile, I’d rather follow a few savvy eaters to learn exactly what dish they recommend where so I can make sure to eat the good stuff rather than risking it on the whole menu.