I live on the road. Every week, I'm in a different city or new neighborhood, looking for new places to eat, drink, work, sleep and so on. As such, I typically turn to my iPhone for guides and recommendations. The main apps I use for this: Yelp and Foursquare.
But neither does the job at all well. Over the last few days (I'm in San Francisco currently), I've struggled to find good breakfast, lunch, and beer joints.
Let's use the search for a good beer as an example: Friday night, I wanted to find a bar within a 10 minute walk of my hotel (so there was a geolocation element to my search). I wanted to know if the place would be tolerable on a Friday night (as in, not too crowded, not too loud, no cover charge, etc). Most importantly: I wanted to know if the place had decent beer on tap.
An initial search for "beer" on Yelp turned up nothing nearby. I tried searching for "pub" and again found little. Even a search for "bars" turned up minimal results. (I should note here, that I specifically searched for "beer" versus "bar" because I didn't want a cocktail. I wanted a beer. I should note too that there were indeed a lot of bars near our hotel. I simply wanted a recommendation.)
So I switched to Foursquare's new "Explore" feature. It pulls in recommendations from places popular on Foursquare; I can also see which places, if any, my 90+ Foursquare friends have checked in at. (I can then judge too where to drink based on which of my friends are, like me, beer snobs.) One of the good things about Foursquare too is that it seems to include the text from reviews in its search, so it isn't just reliant on the keyword tagging of the establishments.
I chose a place to meet up with Kin based on the description from those reviews -- a place with lots of beers on tap. But he arrived there first, and he texted me to say "Nope." On tap: Budweiser and Guinness.
Clearly, there are problems then with how places are tagged with keywords. There are problems with reviews that are inaccurate or meaningless (and this sidesteps the whole issue of how useless 99% of all Yelp reviews actually are… I mean what am I supposed to take from a comment like "best breakfast ever"?) In some ways, a possible answer to iffy reviews is the addition of social recommendations -- that is, recommendations from people you know or trust. (If Anthony Bourdain says "best breakfast ever," it probably means something.) There are problems too with out-of-date information -- whether it's what beers are on tap or what hours a place is open, or even if a place is still in business. The answer there -- and perhaps an answer to the keyword issue too -- is to allow people (proprietors and visitors) to update entries.
There's so much potential in the local-mobile-social space right now. No doubt, it's a big buzzword right now. It's also a big ball of #fail when it comes to finding beer. Someone should fix this -- Kin, I'm looking' at you.
Photo credits: Kin Lane