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Check-in’ out the location-based apps, Pt 4 – Yelp

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
14 October 2010

This is the fourth in a series of five blogs, looking at some of the major players in the location-based app business – FourSquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, Yelp and SCVNGR. As well as looking at the pro’s and cons of each for users of the service, I’m taking a look at what opportunities they present for brands and services who might choose to use them. On Monday we looked at FourSquare; Tuesday was Gowalla; Wednesday focussed on Facebook Places. Today, part 4 of the series takes a look at…

Yelp

yelp-logoBy far the oldest of all the services reviewed (possibly the oldest application too, I’m not sure), Yelp has been popular amongst the review community for several years now. It differs from the other applications slightly, in that it uses more of an information-sharing angle than most, also mainly limiting itself to restaurants and bars and the like.

How app-y does it make you?

From a ‘check-in’ perspective, it’s a lot more web-like than any of the others – photos of locations and reviews being presented upfront make it a lot easier to see whether you’re checking in to the right spot or not. But to look at it purely as a check-in app is probably doing it a dis-service. Check-ins are essentially a secondary offering of the site, with reviews and offers being the main focus. The site behind it has always been a review-portal first and foremost, so the makers of the app have obviously chosen to stick to what they know, which should be applauded.

From a usability perspective, the presence of a ‘Home’ screen makes admin-ing your account much easier than on other apps – you can do everything you need to do from inside the application, with nothing pulling you back to the website if you don’t want to.

Another little feature that I like is the fact that you can upload photos without having to check-in – very good for people like me who might want to add a photo in hindsight, without having to bother my dinner colleagues by sitting at the table using my phone!

How about the website?

yelp-site

It’s quite old-school in it’s look’n’feel – lots of information on the page, very much like MSN used to be in the old days. I’m not a massive fan of this approach, but I guess if you’ve got that much content you probably think it’s best to show that upfront.

As mentioned above, unlike the other apps reviewed Yelp is more of a web-based portal with an app to expand it’s scope, rather than the other way round. Subsequently, the majority of the functionality can be used without ever having to touch your phone.

photo (17)What sort of coverage do they have in the UK?

Most of the restaurants in this area were already loaded, with lots of reviews submitted and some beautiful photos. Though I can’t be sure of how much of that was already there before the application came along – either way though, it makes for a nice user experience for browsers.

It can’t be that popular though – with my first ever checkin I apparently went to 8th on the “London Check-in leaderboard”, which leads me to believe there can’t be that many people using it these days…!

What can brands do?

Yelp is the newest app I personally have added, and I’ve not yet figured out how brands can make changes to their presences on it. Having said that, I *did* have a very thorough look round the site and still couldn’t find any information on their more commercial side, so perhaps they don’t do it…? Review sites often like to keep themselves free from ‘meddling’ by the brands being reviewed, so it’s possible that Yelp may have decided to keep free from brand intervention. If you know otherwise though, please do let me know.

How easy is it for users to set up?

Quite simple – sign-up can be done direct from the phone, with a reasonably quick registration and good integration with Facebook.

Why should I choose this one?

The Yelp equivalent of FourSquare’s Mayor badges is their ‘Royalty’ leaderboard – very active users are crowned Kings, Queens and Dukes of their various cities. Though as I mentioned above, it seems to be quite a small community of users using it at the moment, at least in the UK.

photo (18)However, the biggest differentiator is the Yelp ‘Monocle’ – an augmented reality add-in which allows you to map nearby locations using the camera on your phone. It’s a really nice touch, though quite frankly I was amazed at how hard it was to find this feature. For something that’s such a nice addition, they’ve really hidden it away!

How ‘social’ is it?

Facebook integration is sound, though it’s almost impossible to do anything with Twitter except tweet your check-ins. There’s a lot more emphasis put on adding friends based on their Yelp activity, making Yelp seem more like an app-based social network than the others.

Strangely, the look of the website – as well as little indicators like allowing you to import friends from AOL and MSN, but not Twitter – all point to the service feeling a little out-dated. Perhaps they need to re-evaluate their focus, like some of the others have done since Facebook Places came along?

In summary…

I suspect it’s probably a much stronger service in the States, where I’m lead to believe it’s more popular. It seems like a lot of nice potential, but with site design, integration and little issues making it feel like a bit of a missed opportunity, at least at the moment.

Tomorrow… SCVNGR!

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