Never. Ever. This is one of the many things that I have written down in my little book.
Today, Google has launched a feature – “review this business“, which directly replicates one of the core functionalities of Qype. Qype is a local review site and as such the clear market leader in Germany, and probably by far the largest in Europe.
Will Qype be successful? To answer this question, you have to take a closer look at our business. We are in the business of building a local community of people who have something meaningful to say. We try our best to separate signal and noise. We actively support our community. We solve conflicts. This the expensive part of our business. We invested a lot of our resources to get our community going in Germany and are planning to achieve this in the UK.
Many blog comments already say that the lack of community features is the core weakness in Google’s offering. Now in our view, community is what makes a review site interesting for it’s users. When we launched our very first version of Qype in 2005, it did not have community features and it was not accepted by our users. Only with our second version, which went live in April 2006, did we get traction. This traction was massively amplified when we introduced offline events, where our community members could meet.
With this experience, we are not alone. Our US counterpart Yelp.com seems to have made exactly the same effort, and did much better than less community focused sites like Insiderpages.com. (see Center Networks for this) Our users’ personal profiles are the focus of much of our attention. With tagging, users can describe their interests implicitly. These profile pages are at the core of our universe.
In contrast, at Google I can only give myself an alias. But there it ends. Several people can use the same alias name. I can only click onother reviews written by the same author, but I seem not to be able to make any other connection to that user.
Now, I might be wrong, but it would totally work against all our experience that people would now be driven in masses to start reviewing on Google.
We at least find it not easy to convince visitors that it is a rewarding experience to contribute to Qype. The reward comes later from the community, in form of recognition, feedback, etc. And this is what makes us grow. There is no recognition element on Google Maps. So for the moment, I think the review feature on Google Maps will not be a huge threat.
Of course this is a bet. And for sure the game in which we are placing this bet has been changed.
To better and worse: It will not be as easy for others to get funded in this area as it was before. On the other hand, the those of the big local search players who have not added reviews already will start to do so. But they will all have the same issue: If they are not a community, it will probably work even less for them than for Google.