Partnering with Web.com

You might have noticed it’s been a *little* while since we blogged here at WhoDoYou. For the most part we’ve been busy helping connect people with trusted local businesses. We’ll have more to say on that in subsequent blog posts. But today I’m happy to share that WhoDoYou and Web.com have teamed up to offer  small businesses in the UK a free Digital Health Check, and a £50 voucher to spend on any Web.com services. You can read more about the specific in our press release.

I am particularly gratified to make this public because we think the opportunity is so good for small businesses. In essence, each business owner must think about his or her online footprint at all times. No longer can a small business ignore the fact that more than half of all online searches are done on mobile, and that over 87% of people expect to read reviews on businesses they contact.

It is for that exact reason that a combined approach makes so much sense. WhoDoYou can provide extraordinarily valuable content in the form of trusted reviews and recommendations from social media. At the same time, Web.com can provide a custom consultation to help each small business leverage their social recommendations, and multiply their impact through optimizing websites, social media presence and more. Read more about the offer, and see what Web.com have to say:

“We’re delighted to be partnering with WhoDoYou to offer free Digital Health checks to their local business customers,” says Alastair Thornton, UK Country Manager of Web.com. “We are finding more and more local businesses needing help with the complex world of local online marketing, and by working with WhoDoYou we are able to provide a quick and easy solution, plus discounts on key services for those businesses who take up the offer.”

We ran an initial pilot last month – in December 2016 – and received terrific feedback. As a result, we are rolling out the program country-wide (in the UK) this January, and will consider other geographies in the near future.

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One Small Step for Facebook, One Giant Leap…

Perhaps those of you outside the world of local, social search did not experience the ground shake when Facebook announced their new “Keyword Search” yesterday. But make no mistake, whether you’re in the industry, or you’re a regular user of social media, this development augurs a sea change in the way people will find information in the future. Indeed, a thoughtful article by @joshconstine on TechCrunch spells it out in the title: “Facebook Post Search: Strong Recommendations, Yelp Should Worry.”

 

To briefly recap, Facebook announced they have enabled (on US, mobile iOS right now, Android and the rest of the world later) a keyword search capability. That means you can now search back among old posts you wrote or saw on your newsfeed. The examples they highlighted were city names, as in, you are planning a trip to Berlin and want to know which of your friends might be able to recommend attractions or restaurants. Similarly, Facebook highlighted the opportunity to see dentists mentioned by friends. Cool? Yep. Game-changer? Probably, and we can start with its eventual effect on the status quo.

Why should Yelp worry that people can now search for the word dentist on Facebook? One word: trust. Tens of millions of people go to Yelp every month to search for recommendations, but 47% of people using Yelp don’t trust the data they find, and for good reason, since some estimate that between 20-50% of Yelp reviews are bogus. On Facebook, the recommendations shared daily are between friends, generally provided in response to a fellow group member’s need, or a friends’ plea for help. This makes the Facebook platform a highly desirable place not just to ask for, but also to search, high authenticity referrals.

Now, returning to Facebook’s announcement, I claimed above that it is a harbinger for the future, the not-so-subtle implication was that it’s not very impactful for the present. The trend toward social search is clear, but the utility of this new search on Facebook is going to be quite limited – approaching ineffectual – for the time being. The reason, in another one-word answer, is noise. There will be too much data, and not enough information with this new capability.

Searching by keywords leads to lots of results, some will be good and many will be bad. For all you old-timers out there, think Yahoo search versus Google. The former gave you thousands of results, but you still had to spend a lot of time sifting through the noise to find your desired signal. With Google search, they often seem to know the answer before you can fully formulate the question.

And that’s why we believe WhoDoYou’s service is at least several generations ahead of Facebook Keyword Search for local, social search. We’ve been focused on this problem for a few years now, and have become expert at identifying posts which contain legitimate requests for recommendations or referrals. In fact, we’ve processed tens of millions of posts, and have found that fewer than 5% that include common keywords – such as dentist, barber, plumber or photographer – are requests for recommendations from friends. That means you’ll have to sift through, on average, 19 “bad” results for each “good” one. While it’s cool to see who mentioned the word ‘dentist’ in the last five years, I personally would rather get 4-5 good answers, than dig through 80-100 posts that contain the word dentist.

In fact, we’ve been working for a long time to innovate in converting free text recommendations spread across many posts, into aggregated business listings with all the recommendations gathered into one profile. That way you have some ability to order the results based on who is most recommended. This is a pretty challenging proposition for a variety of reasons, but the results speak for themselves. Below are several dentists that have been recommended nearly a dozen times each in response to friends’ requests for help.

We are proud that each month tens of thousands of users contact businesses found on WhoDoYou. Our goal is, and has always been, to help people find answers to their questions. With all the data out there, it’s a delight for our users to have the information pulled, cataloged, inventoried, and presented in a logical and straightforward way.

We look forward to hearing from you, and would be happy to discuss the challenges and opportunities of an effective local, social search.

Yoav

Review Sites Can Legally Manipulate Reviews For Money, But Should They?

A lot of ink has recently been spilled over a California court decision that defends Yelp’s right to manipulate reviews as a protected form of “aggressive advertising.” Far be it from me to comment as a legal scholar, I can’t say much with respect to the law and it’s rightful application or not. But I most certainly can comment on whether such a practice is fair, serves the users that create content on sites like Yelp, and is a trend about which we should be worried.

Let’s break this down into a few parts. First, what’s actually going on? What kind of review manipulation are companies like Yelp accused of, and if they are indeed engaging in the practice, is it unfair?

Broadly speaking, Yelp has been repeatedly accused by small business owners of extortion. In essence, the criticisms boil down to two core practices they find unacceptable: filtering reviews through a mysterious algorithm that seems to allow more positive reviews when the small business pays for a subscription, and seems to filter most of them out when the business does not pay. And second, Yelp will only remove competitive advertising from a business profile if that business pays a subscription. Or said another way, business owners can pay to remove competitive advertising.

As Yelp is a for-profit company, it seems reasonable that they can place ads anywhere on their site. In the old days of the Yellow Pages, many businesses were listed on one page, and users could differentiate between the ads and listings. Here too, while businesses may not like it, users can make a clear distinction between a business listing and an ad. If Yelp wants to offer a paid service to a business for a more “exclusive” listing, i.e. one that has no other competitors displayed, they should be free to do so.

However, if the claim is true that Yelp manipulates listings based on whether or not a business pays, that is entirely different. In essence, this manipulation is an artificial representation of the user’s sentiment, and crucially, it destroys the basic foundation of trust that a user expects when she reads a review online. If Yelp can manipulate reviews on its site, and is now protected by the court in doing so, what’s to stop Yelp from simply fabricating reviews? How is that any different? Since most users don’t read every review on every business, the act of deliberately adding or removing reviews is tantamount to simply injecting Yelp’s own rating on a given business. That’s what makes this practice, and the supporting decision, so damning.

Exposing this truth may be disconcerting to loyal Yelp users. The good news is, however, we operate in a free market. A company that acts within the law is not subject to legal action, but may well be vulnerable to competitors that provide a more trustworthy service. Yelp seems to be making trade-off decisions that reward shareholders in the near term. In the long-term, this kind of behavior serves as a wake-up call to all users that they have choice. If a large incumbent gets complacent, or worse, begins to act in ways that conflict with their users’ best interests, those users will find newer and better platforms.

Which leads to the final question, is there a broader trend here, and need we be worried? The answer is an emphatic yes – there is a broader trend of manipulated reviews and gaming by both review sites and business owners. It is a serious problem and by most estimates, getting worse. Thankfully, we have an incredibly robust market that encourages new entrants, rewards good actors (broadly speaking), and punishes companies that do not act in the long-term best interests of their customers.

So, if review sites and ratings marketplaces know what’s good for them, they’ll focus on integrity – providing a high quality, highly trusted experience for their users. If not, whether the court allows these kinds of review manipulation shenanigans or not, the cream will eventually rise to the top. And it may well be that paradoxically, this decision – which seemed to favor Yelp – will in fact be a tipping point in the opposite direction. With businesses beginning to encourage negative reviews as a tongue-in-cheek protest, the latest developments augur well for a new class of recommendation sites that have one thing Yelp doesn’t seem to have: trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WhoDoYou App for iPhone – Available Now!

I am pleased to announce that our iPhone app is now available on iTunes. This is an important achievement for us, as it allows users to find trusted recommendations on desktop, mobile web, Android and iPhone. Download the app today and let us know what you think.

3 4 1

I have often been asked (recently by BusinessWeek) about our mix of traffic – desktop vs mobile. in fact, many in our industry have challenged us: why even bother with a desktop version of WhoDoYou, after all, haven’t we heard of mobile first? Well yes, we have, and there is no doubt that mobile is a crucial part of providing a great user experience. However, we have seen our mix of traffic stabilize over the last several months – even while we’ve been growing overall users exponentially. And guess what? It turns out that two thirds of our users search on desktop, while one third use a mobile device.

We view this as a positive. Some searches lend themselves well to mobile, either because of time sensitivity or location. One example is locksmith searches – these are overwhelmingly done on mobile, as you might expect. Just think if you were locked out of your car or house, how would you search for a locksmith?

On the other hand, consider a search for dentist or pediatrician. These are much more likely to be done on a desktop, with plenty of time and room to do ‘research’. In other words, the context of each search matters a lot. And we have seen the positive impact of searches executed on our mobile apps. It is easy for users to save provider information directly to contacts; to bookmark providers or searches, and certainly to call directly from within the app.

So, we are excited to launch our iOS app today, and we look forward to more exciting news in the coming weeks. Please send us any feedback you have on the apps, and we’ll be sure to get back to you asap.

Thanks for your support!

Who will be the big (3) winner(s) in local?

[Note: This opinion piece originally appeared on Forbes.com]

 

After nearly twenty years of the Web affecting virtually all aspects of our lives, local search has stubbornly eluded much of the innovation seen in other industries. To be sure there have been major advances, particularly in the realm of location-aware services, maps and federated listings.

But broadly speaking, local search is still very much stuck in the past. Think back 20 years – 1994 – and try to remember how you found local information. Movie times were found in the newspaper (or for very advanced folks, by calling Moviefone); top restaurants were found in review guides like Zagat’s, and any kind of local service or store was located in the Yellow Pages.

Now think about what’s really changed today. Movies and show times are found on any number of directory sites, or on Google; Restaurants are often selected on review sites like Yelp, and local service providers can be found either in directories, or the “old-fashioned way” – referred by friends. So, with all the innovation of the past 20 years, what have we really achieved in local?

We’ve replaced the Yellow Pages with Google, Zagat’s with Yelp, and word of mouth with, well, we’ll get to that… So is that it? Are we simply replacing the old, offline model with online facsimiles (excuse the pun)? I’d like to put forward the proposition that local search is approaching a watershed moment, where the confluence of new mobile device capabilities, the maturing app market, along with the emergence of social media as a driving force in local, will finally push this laggard segment into the forefront of innovation. And within that context, I believe there will be three winners, each dominating a core part of the value chain, which I describe as: Find, choose, and transact. And who will those winners be? Well, read below for my take, and feel free to add comments or reply back if you believe there will be other dominant players.

 

Find (or, it’s all about the data…)

The basic layer for local search is data. This includes business listings, hours of operation, address, phone, email and website, along with more in-depth information, such as business description, years since founding, specialties, and coverage area. While these data may seem, well, basic, it turns out to be anything but. On average 20% of small businesses close every year, and another 15% change some basic data – phone, location, branch office move, etc – every year. That means that a full one third of all local data is changing on an annual basis. Consider that there are approximately 20 million local businesses in the US alone, and you can quickly see this is a non-trivial problem to keep all those listings updated.

Making the challenge even more complicated, there has been an explosion in local listings, directories and regional sites. Whereas in the old days only the Yellow Pages needed to be updated, today a small business that wants to be not just discovered, but properly and accurately represented, must be sure to regularly update listings on the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing), Facebook, review sites – both horizontal (e.g. Yelp) and vertical (e.g. HomeAdvisor in the home services space), and dozens of other local sites.

Firms like Yext have emerged to try and plug this hole. Operating on a subscription model, they auto-update local business information on dozens of sites. While this approach is promising, and they have been lavishly funded ($116m! as of June 2014), it would appear this is a temporary anomaly in the market. Ultimately this data layer will be most robust and available if solved by a standards-oriented model. To a large degree, Google is fast becoming the go-to place for businesses to update their own information. Over a five to ten year period it is most likely that Google is best positioned to win this part of the local search space, for two reasons: first, they have a dominant share of the overall search market, and that requires local businesses to get their data accurate on Google. And second, Google Maps has a self-serve function that does not require a subscription to keep data updated. Despite the fact that Google today licenses a significant amount of data from Yellow Pages operators, they are very much on the way to becoming THE authoritative source for local info. Once achieved, Google will be in an enviable position as the go-to source for local data, and ultimately may license that data out to the myriad companies that simply need reliable listings information.

 

Choose (or ‘swimming in data, no information to be found…’)

Now assuming the first layer is solved, and users can easily find data on podiatrists, plumbers and photographers, the next task which faces real users is to choose between providers. In some cases this is simple – a dry cleaner which is good enough and close enough will satisfy 80%+ of the population. For commodity services such as an oil change, low price wins. However, for many categories – including doctors, home service professionals, auto-related providers – real people need help choosing between various alternatives. And this is a crucial part of the value chain precisely because it is the decision point – the place where users choose one deserving provider out of a typically very long list of potential options.

Indeed an insidious side effect of having so much data available today is the difficulty in sifting through all that noise. This is a problem that’s been around since the Yellow Pages days, and it’s why so many company names started with an “A,” since the top of the list seemed like as good a criterion as any for choosing a local electrician. (Little known fact – that’s why Jeff Bezos chose to name his little online book seller Amazon, since it would come up higher on Web directories. Just like the Yellow Pages.) But times have changed. People not only expect to have good data, real people are using apps, messaging, review sites, etc. to select great local service providers.

While there are dozens, if not hundreds of local review sites, the two biggest US names are: Yelp and  Angie’s List. This is a difficult space to get in to – it is extraordinarily expensive and complex to build a database of trusted opinions that can be used across hundreds of categories and thousands of cities. In addition, trust is becoming one of the most valued commodities in online reviews, as evidence mounts that most review sites are rife with manipulated data, creating even greater challenges for users in choosing quality providers.

So, given Yelp’s size and dominance in the restaurant review vertical, it is fair to say they are the odds-on favorite to win. But there are a host of emerging companies looking to disrupt the ‘choose’ portion of the value chain with a new value proposition: trust. The Web has made transparent so many industries – from finance to travel, products to real estate – hiding behind imperfect information has become a thing of the past. In local search, the winning platform for selecting providers will be the place that has the most authentic, useful and “decision-inducing” information. Some of the leading startups focused on social, local search include Knowzz, ByUs, Vouchd and WhoDoYou; only time will tell which of these candidates can muster the scale and quality to compete with the incumbents.

 

Transact (or, show me the money!)

And finally, there is the transaction. After searching and finding a local business, the next step is hiring or paying for service. While this sounds straightforward, there are a range of payment scenarios that make it anything but simple. Home service providers (contractors, gardeners, handymen) often need to see a job before providing a quote; professional services typically bill after the fact based on hours or procedures (accountants, doctors), and some businesses require ongoing negotiations (mechanics, movers, home IT services, etc). Unlike products, which have a discrete price point, few services can be booked and billed as a commodity.

Indeed the process of scheduling and paying for services has created a pain point that many startups are now trying to solve. In various vertical segments – from cleaners to handymen and beyond – their promise is to make finding and scheduling as easy as buying a product online. However, each vertical has its own unique requirements, and many of them do not require ongoing engagement with the vertical site. For these reasons, it is unlikely that a vertical solution, which only cover one or two categories, will be the platform winner.

Rather, there are a handful of horizontal players developing solutions that work across categories, gaining momentum largely as a result of the power of mobile devices. Today it is possible for both buyer and seller to get great information – about the job, location, timing, estimate, etc. in ways that would have taken multiple calls in the past. This trend has accelerated the growth of incumbents, including HomeAdvisor (formerly Service Magic) and Red Beacon, as well as more recent entrants such as TaskRabbit and Zaarly for tasks, Porch for home services, and even oDesk and eLance for professional and outsourcing.

But the company which seems best positioned right now to add value to both users and small businesses is Thumbtack. They have efficiently optimized the flow for users to get qualified estimates, and they are providing merchants with high quality leads that have a strong intent to purchase. With a recent round of funding bringing their total to more than $50m, Thumbtack has the capacity to continue building a great solution for service providers, including deeper capabilities such as scheduling, and calendaring, reputation management and more. While the space is still very much nascent, Thumbtack has so far proven itself capable of driving significant traffic, and effective in closing transactions between buyers and sellers.

 

Conclusion

The local search space has long lagged behind the rest of the online world by stubbornly resisting deep innovation. However, as mobile devices, apps and social have re-ordered the playing field, a new set of players are rapidly resetting the landscape for finding, choosing, and booking local businesses.

How Much Effort Should It Take To Rely On A Review?

I recently saw a segment on the Today Show, with an expert discussing the now-familiar topic ‘How to evaluate online reviews’. Here’s the tagline for the video:

“Sharon Epperson, CNBC’s personal finance correspondent, joins TODAY to help you figure out which online reviews are reliable and unbiased when you’re making decisions about things like booking a hotel or investing in a kitchen appliance.”

With all due respect to Ms. Epperson, who actually provides some pretty good advice, this whole topic is demoralizing. The only reason for having review sites is to help people make decisions about products, services and destinations. Why should people have to work so hard in filtering through reviews that ostensibly have only one purpose in life?

Well, it’s obvious but un-stated that the reason people need to work so hard in using review sites is because so many reviews are unreliable AND biased.

As a result, the user has to spend time and energy trying to figure out what’s fake and what’s real. Here are some of her observations:

  1. One can get anxious when looking through reviews (she got anxious just preparing for the segment) because there’s so much data to go through to ensure a useful review
  2. When buying products make sure reviewers are verified purchasers before you rely on the review
  3. Review the reviewer – look to see where they come from, what they have posted in the past, see whether they have similar interests or taste
  4. Read at least a dozen reviews – on several different sites – so you can be sure the information is representative
  5. Look at the language used by the reviewer; maybe they’re being paid to write a review. If similar language is used across different sites, it gives you an indication there may be gaming, so you need to look at multiple sites

Whew, that seems like a lot of work. When you distill all these tips, they come down to one primary issue: trust. If you know you can believe the reviewer is actually trying to help by giving an honest opinion, it virtually removes all the other steps in this list.

So, as usual, we recommend you come to WhoDoYou, where the data is always accurate, and the advice can always be trusted. And as a side benefit, you’ll spend less time trying to figure out what’s real, and more time finding the provider that’s perfect for you.

We love getting your feedback, please feel free to share your opinion on this blog or by sending mail: feedback@whodoyou.com.

Bloomberg Interview, or Which Platform First?

Bloomberg’s Adam Satariano did a nice job covering the Apple Developer Conference with a thoughtful article on Tuesday. While WhoDoYou received a prominent mention, and I was quoted for the article describing our rationale for going Android first, there is a broader topic that may be of more interest. Specifically, which platform should a startup target first? With limited resources and a need to be super-focused, many early stage companies face the dilemma of choosing one platform over another. With lots of hype and over-heated pundits shouting ‘mobile only’, or Apple is the only platform that matters, what is a startup to do?

 

First and foremost, let’s establish that we were asked our opinion for the Bloomberg piece primarily because we represent the thousands of companies that face the decision: which platform first? WhoDoYou was used as a case study, representing a new breed of companies that decided to develop their first native app on Android over iOS.

But it should be said that we actually developed our desktop product first. That’s where we still see the majority of our traffic, and we’ve developed a deep and mature technology solution to create a great user experience. We also developed a mobile-optimized version as our first foray into the non-desktop space, reasoning that most people will first experience a site like WhoDoYou when doing a search on their mobile. If we provide a great experience, it becomes a good magnet for them to download our app and enjoy it for subsequent searches.

Indeed, with our mobile and desktop solutions working reasonably well, and seeing traffic grow quite dramatically, we considered avoiding native apps altogether. But in our case, there are a set of important user scenarios that justified the creation of a native experience. So, once we decided to “go native,” we wanted to be data driven about the approach. As I’ve said, we study our traffic very carefully and there was no doubt that the share of mobile users coming to WhoDoYou was increasingly on Android devices. So for us, it was logical to begin on Android.

Yet there is also no question that iOS is a critical platform that cannot be ignored, despite its rapidly shrinking overall share; and we are deep in the process of building our iPhone app. So, while we may (literally) be the poster child for Android first, we’re also invested in developing on the iOS platform. We plan to release our app soon, and look forward to announcing it once ready.

Now, given there are considerations for which platform to target, there are also factors related to developing on each platform that are worth sharing. I’ll start with Apple, and to be honest, I must say, we have been underwhelmed up until now. Last year we released a beta app on iTunes and found the process extraordinarily painful. Between faxing forms to get our developer’s license, waiting for Apple to review our submissions, getting codes to release the app, and most of all – using a third party utility (TestFlight) to test our app internally – it was a lengthy and sub-optimal experience to say the least.

In contrast, releasing our Android app a few weeks ago was an absolute pleasure. There is a built-in mechanism for doing internal testing, developers have plenty of leeway in describing their apps, and most important of all, the path to actually releasing our app was very, very fast. In comparing our experience on iOS versus Android, there was almost no comparison. So indeed we were pleased to see the announcement by Apple and hope – particularly as we are in the midst of developing our iOS app – that these changes improve the experience.

Before closing this post, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the end user experience with both app stores. While it certainly was easier to develop and release on Google’s Play Store, we worry at times about the totally open nature of Google Play. We hear from many users that they are concerned by downloading apps because the permissions can be incredibly invasive, and Google doesn’t seem too interested in helping people navigate this challenge. While Apple may be a bit too slow and rigid, Google may not be doing enough to protect users from some nefarious developers.

So, it is our hope that both platforms continue to work on finding the magic middle ground – making it easy and quick to develop apps, but giving users the control and guidance needed to ensure the apps they download don’t end up causing harm.

Please feel free to comment or ping me directly if you have thoughts on this topic. Many thanks.

Yoav

Does Identity Matter in Online Reviews

When people first see WhoDoYou in action, they will sometimes ask ‘why do I care if one random person recommended a mechanic to another friend, if I don’t know either of them? As faithful readers of this blog know, it’s a question I’ve dealt with in various forms in the past. But this issue came roaring to life in January when Yelp lost a court case that required them to disclose the identity of 7 anonymous reviewers of a carpet cleaning business in Virginia. This past week Yelp was formally ordered to make public the seven identities.

 

So what, you say? Should it affect the sources you use for finding trusted information? Should this case make you wary about what you post when your name isn’t connected? Well, take a brief step back and think about how differently people speak when they are on an anonymous phone call with a complete stranger, versus the way people speak when looking someone in the eye. It shouldn’t take much convincing that people are willing to say a lot of things when no one is looking, and they tend to be much more reserved when others are clearly watching.

In fact, it reminds me of a project I worked on more than 15 years ago at a series of call centers. While my role as a consultant was primarily involved with the overall center operations, we were asked to ‘jack-in’ for a minimum of one hour of phone calls before we could start our project. In those 60 minutes I heard more offensive, abusive and downright nasty behavior than I had heard in many years. While I didn’t think it would have much of an effect on me, it actually shocked me. It seemed people had little compunction and self-control when nobody was watching. Or, more precisely, when nobody they knew was watching.

 

Perhaps this is an unfortunate element of the human condition. Maybe I’m getting a bit too philosophical for a tech blog. But our job at WhoDoYou is to think every day about building a high trust site for people to find local referrals. It matters a lot how that trust is built, and it seems clear to us that you simply cannot build a trusted review site on the back of anonymous reviews and reviewers. The motivation to misbehave is simply too strong, and as has often been pointed out on this blog, the rewards for unscrupulous behavior are too immediate to prevent people from polluting the overall healthy exchange of online opinions.

So, bottom line, what’s the take-away? Identity is required for trust. Without knowing who is giving the opinion, it’s nearly impossible to rely on the what that’s being said. And if Yelp is being forced to disclose the identity of presumed-libelous reviewers, anyone can be vulnerable when submitting anonymous reviews. Instead of getting caught up in all that, I suggest coming on over to WhoDoYou. You’ll find trusted advice shared between friends. And if you have an opinion about a local service provider, put your name behind it so your friends and neighbors can benefit from your honest assessment. They – and we – will thank you for it!

As always, please feel free to leave any questions or comments.

 

 

 

Launching The New WhoDoYou

Hello WhoDoYou-ers! Today we’re launching the next generation of WhoDoYou, with a brand new look that is re-designed and re-engineered to make it even easier for you to find and choose great local businesses.

While we’ve been hard at work developing some fancy new bells and whistles to make this the best ever version of WhoDoYou, what really matters is helping you find that trusted business when you need it. Think back to the last time you needed a locksmith to get into your locked out car, or to find a dentist that was open on a long weekend when your tooth wouldn’t stop aching. Where did you go to find someone you could trust? Who did you ask?

Serving up advice that could be used with confidence was the motivator for creating WhoDoYou in the first place. From the beginning we were – and remain – dedicated to helping you find the professionals you need, recommended by the people you trust.

So, what can you expect to see in the new WhoDoYou? First and foremost, it will be easier to find and contact businesses. We heard your feedback that showing conversations from trusted sources is great, but having the business listing is also very important. So, we’ve converted a majority of the recommendations into business profile pages – a mini landing page you’ll see for each local plumber, dentist or photographer when you click to see full details.

We’ve also worked hard to create a ranking and sorting mechanism that shows you the most relevant providers first. Notice the big ‘ol numbers at the right of each provider or recommendation card. These relevancy rankings are customized for each search, and include things like the number and quality of reviews, proximity to your search, and as you’d expect, a social weighting.

Of course we always encourage folks to log in, since that allows us to not only personalize your sort, but we can actually gather private recommendations from your Facebook friends and from people in your groups. These personal nuggets of advice will only show up for you – they are not public – but each one is worth its weight in gold since they come from your personal contacts. Our ultimate goal is to get you the best information. Quickly. And with high trust, so you can choose a great provider

We’ve also had many people ask us how they can view their own list of personal recommendations, and I’m pleased to say, we have an amazing new capability. Look at the picture of my vault below – you’ll note I have more than 1,000 recommendations from friends and groups. Starting today you too can see all those amazing bits of advice, easily sorted by overall category, and if you click on any of those fancy pictures, you can see every sub-category and every recommendation. It’s quite amazing, and we think you’ll be excited to see all that great, shared information available to you in one handy spot. Let us know what you think!

We hope you’ll also appreciate the improved experience across the site, but in particular, we believe you’ll be pleased to use the totally new mobile site. Now if you’re searching on the go it’ll be as easy on your phone to find what you’re looking for as on your desktop. In the coming weeks we’ll be releasing apps for Android and iPhone, so keep an eye out for those as well.

From a company perspective, this launch comes at an exciting time of growth. While there is still much to do, as of this month, we achieved some very meaningful milestones, including:

  • More than 500,000 recommendations converted from public social media conversations
  • Every day, in more than 500 US cities and 50 international markets, people are now finding local businesses on WhoDoYou. Every day! We couldn’t have imagined that just three, or certainly six months ago
  • And we recently closed a $900k seed round from top Israel and US-based angel investors, including Gigi Levy Weiss, Jonathan Medved, Net Jacobsson, HanJoo Lee and others

So, what comes next? Where do we start! We have lots of plans to continue enhancing the experience for our users, and for service providers that create business profiles. We’re excited about building the next stage, while continuing to maintain our primary focus on helping you, our user, find the professionals you need, recommended by the people you trust.

We look forward to keeping you informed, and hope you’ll send us a note if you have any feedback on the company, the product, or this blog. Send to feedback@whodoyou.com, or to me directly – yoav@whodoyou.com.

Thanks for your support.

Yoav

Ordering the Needles After Finding them in Haystacks

Finding just a few bits of useful information within a vast sea of data is a pretty neat trick. Here at WhoDoYou we specialize in filtering out the millions of posts across social networks that have nothing to do with local business recommendations. The good news is, out of all that hay, we’re able to come up with hundreds of thousands of needles – high quality bits of advice shared between friends.

But believe it or not, it can be difficult to display the resulting information in a logical and ordered way that meets the needs of a person searching WhoDoYou. I’m sure many of you can identify with times when you are most interested in ordering search results by price. At other times, quality is your first criterion, and when searching on mobile, often proximity is the primary variable. WhoDoYou introduces a social layer on top of these considerations, not to mention the precision of the user’s search and the category we have stored (e.g. CPA versus accountant, HVAC vs plumber).

So there are indeed many calculations to factor in when thinking about how best to display the most fitting results to each user, to ultimately help in making a hiring or purchasing decision. We’ve been working on this problem and are excited to soon be rolling out a whole new way of ordering our results – in a way that we believe will make it much quicker and easier for users to choose the business that best fits their needs.

Funny enough, it turns out we’re not the only ones that have been working hard to address this issue. In fact, one of the Internet’s most mature verticals, travel, is still working to make the user experience better when searching for flights, hotels and complex itineraries. Recently the New York Times did a story on ‘How to Choose an Air Travel Search Site.’ They compared the old guard – www.expedia.com, www.orbitz.com, and www.travelocity.com with a handful of newer companies.

The site I found most interesting is www.routehappy.com. They are doing a wonderful job in trying to present useful results in an order that’s meaningful to its users. Try a search and you’ll find they have a ‘Happiness Index’ which attempts to balance the price, schedule and trip duration components (as well as seat recline, in-flight entertainment, etc.). Essentially these are the primary variables used to make a purchase decision, and Routehappy is doing its best to remove most of the work for the person searching.

Coming back to WhoDoYou, our goal is to help people find dentists, plumbers, painters, movers and hundreds of other types of local professionals. Today it’s very difficult on other sites to choose between a list of unknown providers. At WhoDoYou, we give you trusted opinions, and will soon go beyond the bits of advice to showing a more ordered list based on the factors that seem to correlate most with choosing a local service provider.

We hope you’ll like what you see, and as always, we welcome your comments and feedback.

Thanks in advance,

Yoav