"In order to make a decision, one must read reviews-a tedious process that is not well adapted for mobile users. When read linearly, reviews are often contradictory. They can be long and anecdotal such as, 'It was a night out with my boyfriend...' or written years ago and no longer be relevant," says Thomas Repelski, co-founder and CEO of OMB Labs, a fledgling computer software company utilizing social media data and content to create and craft new user experiences. "Then there is always a suspicion that reviews are fake. It can be challenging for the user to synthesize a long series of reviews, and even more so to make a decision based upon them."
This is why Repelski and his three co-founders developed Way Way this year. The restaurant and nightlife recommendation engine ranks places according to their popularity on social media so people can discover great places around them faster and more efficiently.
"The current ranking system does not effectively facilitate decision making. It features two metrics, a star scoring system and number of reviews," Repelski says. "It is hard to trust the star score when there are only a few reviews written, since accuracy can be compromised when feedback is low. And the most reviewed places all tend to have the same score such as 3.5 out of 5 stars in Yelp, which makes them difficult to differentiate."
The Way Way app ranks places according to one unique metric extracted from social data: popularity. "It is a simple and trustworthy measure, given the social nature of the signal captured. People that check in to a place on Facebook or take a picture on Instagram do so because there is an element of pride in sharing their location with their friends and followers," says Repelski. "And thanks to the important volume of activity in social media, Way Way measures the popularity of places dynamically and shows the venues that are trending."
There are no reviews on Way Way. The co-founders decided to omit reviews to test if popularity scores and photos tell the full story. Currently, they are developing a better alternative to reviews that is being tested out amongst beta users and friends.
Instead, a rich content of photos sourced from Instagram, Facebook check-ins, and soon tweets, is structured to enable fast decision-making. Photos are sorted into people, food/drinks and atmosphere. You can also narrow your search by selecting criteria such as neighborhood, type of place and price point. You can see the results of your search on a map or list. And when you double-tap a venue you're interested in, basic information and photo feeds become visible.
By default, when you open the app, you are shown the most popular places in your location. The popularity rank is based on an algorithm that considers the number of check-ins on Facebook and number of photos posted on Instagram.
"We can determine that a given restaurant mentioned in Facebook and Foursquare is in fact the same venue," says Repelski.
"It's a great way to get a gut feeling about a place without being there, but also to stumble on places you wouldn't find using Yelp or Google Maps," he says. "For instance, there are around 20k geo-tagged pictures of restaurants and bars taken in New York City and publicly shared on Instagram every day. By means of comparison, Yelp and Google generate five times and three times less photos respectively, most of which are photos of dishes. On Instagram, people take pictures of themselves, their friends, their surroundings and their food, creating a richer, deeper visual content."
There is a strong correlation between the Way Way popularity score and real-life popularity, according to Repelski. The popularity score is a good indication for local businesses on how healthy their brand is. They can also compare themselves to their competitors, understand the type of patrons they have and get inspired by the dishes they serve.
The Way Way app is available in New York, and it recently launched in Paris where the four co-founders originally met at Ecole Polytechnique. It will launch by month's end in San Francisco and London. "We will try to focus on these first markets for now to test out how the users react to the product, and adapt from there. We want to get to a point where we reach a critical mass of users in at least one market and invest in making the best product possible."
Repelski says he and his co-founders dream of building the best local recommendation product out there. "We don't want to be just a fun alternative to Yelp, Google or Foursquare."
Social Startups is a weekly Social Media Today column written by Shay Moser about the newest and most innovative social companies. Look for the next installment next Wednesday morning. Logos by Jesse Wells.