Facebook is the undisputed king of social media. The average Facebook user has 124 friends, and 70 percent of its users have “liked” at least one local business. But at this point, how local is Facebook really? And as an open network, it the ideal medium for local recommendations?
This is the soft underbelly to Facebook seen by SupportLocal, a new site that has been designed — it hopes — to capture true word of mouth – and a huge list of recommended local businesses.
SupportLocal has raised $1.7 Million, and is being supported by Punchlime, an accelerator manned by ex-Googlers that is backing 25 “breakout” companies. Its founder is Justin Sanger, who previously founded the LocalLaunch sales network. Its board includes such local luminaries as Home Advisor’s Craig Smith, former Dex exec Sean Greene, and longtime local exec Chad Schott.
Users sign up, create their own list of friends, and answer a set of questions about their favorite service providers and merchants. They start with 27 questions, in theory yielding 27 local recommendation – a highly efficient, 10 minute haul.
Based on factors such as gender and various behavioral algorithms, the question set eventually expands to up to 188 questions (sent in bites). Users can also ask a question to their friend’s list for more obscure subjects (“Can you recommend a Judo instructor?”)
In my experience, I found it tough to remember local business names (“the place next to Texaco” doesn’t suffice). But service provider and merchant names are auto filled in after a few letters based on listings in the surrounding areas. Listings for my location, for instance, included not only those in my town or zipcode (Carlsbad, 92009), but all the neighboring towns that I’m likely to shop at (Encinitas, San Marcos, Vista, Oceanside, Solana Beach and DelMar.) The site is currently using a database from Factual, and will be enhancing it with additional sources.
By grabbing a high number of recommendations from the get-go, and relying on friends, it can be a better solution than a Google search, or taking the one-off advice of strangers from Yelp – who may be more interested in entertaining their public than writing a careful review — or even the carefully callibrated reviews of Angie’s List’s premium users (which take a lot of time to fill out, actually.) IF the site can attract a high volume of users, the end result will be a highly credible list of local recommendations.
Speaking at the Local Search Association meeting last week in Las Vegas, Sanger said that “social and search are converging in a manner that enables us to get better answers for local businesses.” In a dig at Facebook, Sanger said that “a like is not a proxy for recommendation. The two are completely different. Who among you is going to ‘like’ an OBGYN?” he said, noting that Support Local allows users to restrict who gets to see certain recommendations.
Sanger emphasized that the Beta version that is up now will be vastly improved in future versions, with such features as tagging added. There will also be more structure built around the user questions, creating more Yabbly-like discussions (Yabbly is a nice question-based social/lifestyle service started by former Marchex exec Tom Leung.). Sanger expects the real driver, however, to be the mobile app, which will be geo-enabled and released in a few weeks.
As for business models, Sanger says he is looking to create an annual support package for businesses. The support package will allow businesses to talk about how they support the local community; provide social objects; push questions as alerts ; and let them create offers. All of these tools will spur more recommendations, he says.