How Not to Be Yelp: Foodspotting

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.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday.

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  1. June 3, 2011

    Really good article! 🙂

    I work with many clients who tell me that “their other guy” posts fake reviews for them, etc…  I think like you said this issue is way more prevalent than most people think.  Now that some sites are catching on, I’ve even seen offers as high as $20 per positive review – that STICKS and isn’t deleted!  Not bad for 5 mins worth of work – if you can write convincingly enough…

  2. June 8, 2011

    Any crowd-based system needs a set of checks and balances. UGC is no similar than Mechanical Turk, 99Designs, etc.. UGC players should look the crowdsourcing companies for many of the lessons they are learning (and implementing) fast.

  3. Amy (Foodspotting)
    June 8, 2011

    Hi Alex, thanks for your kind words about Foodspotting! We’re excited you’re using our app; we really love what we do (and eating) so are always happy to hear we’re achieving our goal of helping our users find good food. To address some of your points: Foodspotting aims to be an all positive platform, but we also rely on our community to keep the system honest. We make it easy to snap a photo and upload the dish recommendation right in the restaurant because your phone knows exactly where you are/it is. We have features like the “nom” aka “nominating” a dish, so others know that dish has been tried & recommended by many. Foods with the most “noms” appear first in searches. Ultimately, it’s a challenge for us all and we appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. Also, suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to email us! team @ foodspotting. Keep up the great work and send us a link to your Foodspotting profile so we can follow your dish recs too 🙂

  4. June 9, 2011

    Yelp has a partial solution that could probably be more fully developed to address this issue. You can “fan” certain reviewers and basically see their reviews first for any place you are checking out. I think if you basically were a “fan” of a power or elite Yelp user, then you can feel rest assured you are getting real recommendations. 

    Yelp could make it a lot better and simply make it more like Twitter where you follow them and get notified of any new amazing reviews. They could also try to compare places two reviewers both been too and see whether they agree on stuff; if so, then they can suggest that person as someone to follow. Easier said than done of course.

  5. Caroline - Philly Tourism
    June 14, 2011

    Hi Alex! We (at Philly Tourism) love Foodspotting too… in fact we recently launched a lot of guides at http://www.foodspotting.com/visitphilly. It was really exciting to see how many people signed up for our guides and started “spotting” the dishes and foods we genuinely recommend. 

  6. Jehovazion
    July 19, 2011

    YELP in HELL!We pray to ALLAH that YELP EXTORTION is exposed in Federal court! Manipulation of reviews is extortion! We pray that our LORD shows no mercy for all the emotional damage and EXTORTION they have inflicted upon small business owners and the children they support. YELP is a brood of snakes and scorpions and deserve to BURN ALIVE for the extortion, lies and slander. PRAY PSALMS 119 FOR THEIR DESTRUCTION!Say five times: “Archangel Gabriel destroy YELP! Now!”YELP WILL BE BANKRUPT SOON! ALL PRAISE TO ALLAH! The Merciful and Compassionate LORD OF MAN and EARTH!

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