Why Yelp If I Can Google?

Google now makes it easy to read ratings, reviews and other associated information about businesses you find on Google Maps. Google has taken its usual approach of aggregating the participation of multiple services and communities across the web to provide a fast way to consume related information. It’s an impressive effort since no metadata or microformat standards exist that make it easy to produce.

Lets use a local Philadelphia business, the Khyber rock club as an example, to contrast and compare Google’s approach with that of its competitors.

Click to open a new window: Google Maps page for the Khyber.

It’s a very tight page featuring most of what you need to know about the Khyber at a glance. Contact information. Hours of operation. Reviews and ratings posted from various services across the web, including Citysearch and Yelp. There is a details page with aggregated information about the Khyber including the club atmosphere. There is a link for me to go to the Khyber’s home page, but at this point, do I need to? I have the many of the vitals I need right here. Except for an events listing.

Now lets check out Citysearch.com and AOL’s Digitalcities entries on the Khyber. Citysearch and Digitalcities have been around for as long as I can remember.

Click to open a new window: Citysearch Khyber page

Click to open a new window: AOL Digital Cities Khyber page

Both Citysearch and Digitalcities incorporate hosted user communities to provide ratings and reviews, these accompany information provided by editors and the businesses themselves. The additional information, which in this instance includes an Events listing – very important for this kind of business – makes them well rounded resources. There is even less reason here for me to visit the Kyber home page.

The last two services I want to compare are Yahoo!’s and Yelp’s entries for the Khyber. First Yelp.

Click to open a new window: Yelp Khyber page

Yelp’s page on the Khyber is information sparse. No editorial reviews. No business provided information. No information aggregated from any other source. Businesses do have the capability to add some basic info to their Yelp page however.

What you do find is an intense social networking focus. Yelp encourages reviewers to maintain profile pages like those you would maintain on Digg, Facebook, Myspace, etc. The kind of information you would share on your own personal blog if you had one. The intersection of sharing local places and services you use, with social networking, provides social opportunities along the lines of MySpace.

So is Yelp a good place to learn about businesses in your area? Maybe. In comparison with Google Maps or Citysearch? No. But it maybe a good service to meet people.

Lastly, lets look at Yahoo!. Yahoo, provides elements of *all* of the previously mentioned services. Aggregated reviews. Editorial content. Some social networking. But participation is lacking. I get no sense of an existing Yahoo! local community I want to interact with.

Click to open a new window: Yahoo! Khyber page

Some thoughts

Local newspapers have been urged by many to go ‘hyper-local’, precisely because they used to have the market cornered for such information. Each of these services attempts to be a regional information and community home page and if the papers don’t look out, these services will eat the last of their lunch left over by Craigslist.

If you’re a local business owner, you have to be concerned. Why? Because these pages are indexable by search engines and will compete with your own home page for visibility in search result placement. Where before a local business would only need to concern itself with an advertisement in the Yellow Pages, and local advertising, now it must gain competency in online marketing to compete for attention-share across enumerable services. It’s a whole lot more work. And if your product isn’t one that is globally deliverable – lets say – pizza – then that work offers no real reward for effort.

Yahoo! is a sad case. If it leveraged Flickr, deli.icio.us, upcoming.org and its other engaged online communities in a coordinated fashion, could be a winner here, but for now, especially since search is the biggest ‘front door’ to this kind of information, it’s Google for me.

And I’d be at Yelp if I was single or looking to network with others.

Update 2/2/07: It looks like Yahoo! is working on *exactly* what I suggested above! GigaOM: Yahoo tests Local mashups. I wonder how long they are going to take before rolling this out. Like Om, I think missing Yahoo! Map integration is a mistake. That, and adding Yahoo! local and Yahoo! Answers to the mix, could make it a useful service to any particular region.