Recommendations… where would we be without them? Imagine having to make every single decision in your life without any guidance whatsoever—what you should wear, eat, who you should date. As humans, it seems pretty obvious that we just can’t be trusted to make most if not all decisions on our own. This fact gave birth to a whole recommendation content industry and a bunch of tools to power our technologically enhanced consumption.
It’s not surprising, then, that it’s something that every third startup you see is doing something with recommendations. It seems to follow growth in data available. Twitter has an API and Mr. Tweet launched to recommend people for you to follow. Amazon has an API, so Hunch recommends books and movies. People check-in to Foursquare, so people work on recommending where you should eat.
Then, there’s the whole “ask your friends” space. Not only is this something people do on Twitter and Facebook all the time, but PeerPong, Aardvark, and others have all tried to figure out slick ways to capture social recommendations.
Yet, at the end of the day, it’s not clear to me that technology is really solving the problem nearly as much as plain old experts and content. Technology was supposed to be the great equalizer, democratizing recommendations and killing off the need for Zagats, critics, etc—yet I find that solutions that take critics into considerations often to be the most useful. Sure, the definition of a critic has widened—like a music or food blogger—but getting recommendations from people with an intense and nearly fulltime focus on an area is hard to replace, and effective to productize.
Examples? How about HypeMachine aggregating music blogs? Movies? How many people aim to watch the AFI 100? In the last few weeks, and I know I’ve talked about this company a lot, I’ve gotten more recommendations converted to actual meals from Dinevore from critics lists than I ever had from Yelp or any other service. They have critics lists that I want to check off because I have a high degree of confidence that I’ll get some good meals out of them versus just eating where my friends eat.
I think the big issue is that context is important—why do I want a particular recommendation at any given time and how much info do you have about my situation? Am I looking for a mystery book? A happy hour bar with a chill atmosphere? Do I even know what the heck I want and can I be trusted to give you enough data in the request?
The critics picks, however, are all about aspiration—we want to be associated with the kinds of places that authorities say are the best. Or, maybe authorities really do know what they’re talking about? Maybe it’s the water cooler effect—that I get a lot more socially out of watching the movies that lots of other people have seen or going to Andrew Knowlton’s Top 25 Brooklyn restaurants that others are also undoubtedly aware of.
What do you think? Where do you tend to get your best recommendations from?