Citysearch seeks tips from Facebook friends

21 Nov Citysearch seeks tips from Facebook friends

Chicago Tribune, By Wailin Wong, November 20, 2008
Everyone’s a critic on the Internet. Thanks to online review sites, practically anyone can post an opinion on a product or service. And consumer decisions can be made by virtual committee. I have a roster of favorite sites that I consult for restaurants, another list for important purchases like a cell phone, and still others for booking travel. But online research is exhausting, and the trust element is shaky. Online reviewers are often anonymous and their agendas unclear. I once looked at the user reviews for a book written by someone I knew and saw that the first two posts came from her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s co-worker, both of whom failed to disclose their relationship with the author in their accolades. In the same vein, consumers have no idea if a glowing restaurant review was written by the owner, or if a bitter complaint against a company came from a rival. And there’s no way to account for differences in taste. A hotel might seem decrepit to one guest and charming to another, or a diner’s standards for authentic Mexican food might be a joke to someone else. This online uncertainty is a contrast from the security of a direct recommendation from a friend. Citysearch, the Internet city guide, recognizes and hopes to bridge this gap by adding more social networking features to its site. On Wednesday, Citysearch unveiled a beta version of its new site that connects with Facebook. Members of the social networking site can use their accounts to log on to Citysearch, with the option of posting their Citysearch reviews on their Facebook pages.  “I think it’s the next frontier in user-generated content and the next frontier in social networks,” said Jay Herratti, Citysearch chief executive. “Obviously, people have proved they like to talk about local businesses. They prefer to talk to friends about it.” Other features will be added. A Chicago resident searching for restaurants to visit on a trip to New York, for example, will be able to see a list of places recommended by their Facebook friends who live in the Big Apple. Citysearch will introduce social networking features for MySpace members next year. Citysearch is not alone in its effort to allow users to transfer their profile data to other sites and share information between online hangouts. It’s one of the partners in the Facebook Connect initiative, which plans to establish links between Facebook and such sites as Digg, Hulu and Evite. Meanwhile, MySpace is working with such Internet companies as eBay and Photobucket. This portability helps address the fatigue of setting up new accounts and instead relies on one online persona that remains consistent from site to site. Herratti said that 95 percent of people who initially click a button on Citysearch to write a review will “bail out because they don’t feel like registering and having another identity.” There are obvious privacy concerns to opening up social networking sites, an issue that Herratti said he’s monitoring while the new Citysearch is in beta for the next few months. Many users dislike having all of their online activity cataloged on their Facebook profiles. Others worry that they won’t be able to control what information gets published or that Web sites are gathering data on their habits for intrusive advertising purposes.