The Future of the Web is not the Like Button

Its encouraging to see some friendly faces next to a product you’re about to buy, and suggested additional purchases and products based on a much larger data set will be quite useful. However, what everyone is really looking for when they are shopping is a quality product or business. A facepile of friends who know nothing about digital cameras is not the best way to help me find the one that best suits my needs. The current like button is not a replacement for the link; its just a temporary filler for user generated content and point of sales information that the market for data is sorely lacking.

In my mind, the best approximations of where shopping and the internet is headed are Google’s Places and Product search pages. That model is the best representation of how an internet of things could look…..individual product and business pages with content, prices, and reviews collected and organized from numerous trusted sources, from experts to amateurs.

There is just one big problem; there still are huge gaps in the data market. Facebook, Foursquare and others have been trying to fill the gaps, or at least many are suggesting that their data can be used that way, but I don’t think anyone has gotten it just right yet. So if the Google Places/Products model is the future, what do they need to be really to fill in the blanks.

1. Verified user generated content.
On most sites anyone can like, review, or write about products or places whether or not you actually ate their or bought the product. I am sure you have seen your fair share of customer reviews out their whose authenticity should seriously be questioned. Currently, I think Google only uses reviews as a another crude approximation for the popularity of a business since they can’t be sure the reviews are authentic. There is a huge opportunity for reservation/appointment booking services, any website with a shopping cart, membership rewards programs, and point of sales services to provide verified content related to products or places.

For instance, Amazon could leverage Rateitall’s API to allow you to review your recent purchases from inside your account or from within a follow-up email. I can’t really speak on the effectiveness of rating products with “likes” versus “stars,” but there could be verified Facebook “likes” too. Opentable had the right idea in combining reservations with reviews.  Other than membership rewards programs, SCVNGR and QR codes are the only examples I have seen of verified check-ins.

2. A hierarchy of trusted content sources and reviewers.
If you are going to develop a product or place rank, not only do you have to verify the authenticity of sentiment and reviews, but you have to rank the trust of the content generators, websites and individuals.

3. Specialization of Places and Product pages.
Using a generalized layout for places and product pages is a sure way of making them ineffective at visualizing information for a sizable number of businesses and products. There are marked differences between service industry jobs, and local stores for instance. Additionally, certifications, honors, and professional affiliations for doctors and dentists are important pieces of information that should be prominently displayed (and ideally should be verified).

4. Manufacturers should be allowed to claim Product pages.
Algorithms collecting product information and features can’t fill in what they can’t find. You need product information that is as complete as possible to enable comparison of features and specification lists. If you can’t pull a complete and accurate list of this information from a trusted resource somewhere, at least allow manufacturers to do it themselves.

I am an orthodontic resident and not some tech expert so leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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