Friday, August 31, 2007

Local portals - what's the benefit?

If you look for places related to a city or town (e. g. sights to see, restaurants, shops, businesses), there are basically three approaches: either you use your favorite search engine and click on one of the result lists (trial and error), you know their website and load their own presentation, or you use a user generated content triggered service (I am refusing to use the term web2.0 deliberately) such as Qype to see whether there is some contribution about that place by some user.

The first approach will possibly lead to a small number of pages that may have some helpful background information, but the majority will just have the address and possibly a link to their homepage (if available). The second approach will only work for a small fraction of those companies that have the money or manpower to have their own web presentation (and you don't really know whether it's trusted information or more like a biased advertising). Finally, the third approach depends on whether other users have contributed to that location or not.

My personal strategy is (in that order) 3, 1 (for additional information I may have missed) and 2 (for restaurants, I would like to see their menu before actually going there). To me, the disadvantage is that I have to look in different places, especially relating to option 1, and that information is often duplicated (even if the wording is different). Instead, I would like to have the information I am looking for aggregated in one single place.

For entrepeneurs that are thinking of establishing yet another local information page, I suppose that the goal for success is that they have a clear understanding of what kind of information they would like to offer, and in what context they would like to see their offering related to other services. While I understand that competition is helpful for some time (taking the example of location based information services), it does not really help the user to have to navigate through several offerings that depend on user content and share more or less the same functions.

In summary, assuming that there is some truth behind the buzz phrase that content and context is king, it has to be made really clear to investors, shareholders and end users what this really means. For instance, one argument could be reliability and trustworthiness. Second, any information service related to the real world should provide a link between virtuality and reality that will provide added value. If your users will access your service on a regular basis, this may be an indication that your proposition is working.