Grayboxx, which ranks local businesses based on the number of mentions they receive on online consumer services, has finally launched, almost a year after I first wrote about it. The service, which assumes that people generally only mention services they like, has repositioned itself as the rating service for small towns that couldn’t hope to get enough users to individually sign in and rate services.
To my eyes, it looks great. It is elegant and intuitive, and it is really nice to see every category heavily populated with lots of listings — even in tiny Burlington, VT, population 38,000, which is its first market. Grayboxx’s system has 12,000 “neighbor recommendations” on more than 3,000 of Burlington’s businesses.
But do the mysterious algorithms really produce reasonable results? To find out, I was going to call Michael Wood-Lewis, the Burlington-based hyper-local guy at Front Porch Forum who writes the Ghost of Midnight blog. But then I thought I’d just read him. Wood-Lewis says the results are pretty awful.
Wood-Lewis notes that he checked out a wide range of categories, including jewelers, taxis, computer repair, groceries, computer dealers, newspapers, shoes and pizza. “As a local, I haven’t had one search produce what I would call ‘good advice from a neighbor.’ Makes me wonder about the chef’s secret recipe (mysterious ranking criteria) … hard to trust when initial tests come up with what I’m seeing.
“Burlington, and all of Vermont, is so reasonably scaled, that lots of this kind of information is near at hand. Ask a few co-workers, friends, etc. Indeed, this is one of the most common types of messages posted among neighbors on Front Porch Forum. People get real ‘neighbor recommendations’ in Burlington everyday this way.
“At this point, I’d rather ask a couple hundred neighbors for a computer repair recommendation through FPF than turn to this kind of service. Or I’d sooner take a peek at the local successful reader survey that our weekly alternative paper runs, the much coveted Daisies, by Seven Days.”