It seems like every time you turn around there’s another site out there trying to help you rate this, that, or the other thing. There’s Rapleaf (people), StreetAdvisor (neighborhood), YourStreet (neighborhood), SodaRatings (soda), and the list goes on (we wrote about Urbanspoon yesterday). Now there’s a new one in private beta, GarageSeek, for rating mechanic’s garages in your area.
With GarageSeek users will be able to share their experiences with mechanics and rate them on several different metrics. When live, the site will provide a potentially very useful service, the ability to check reviews and avoid hiring a shoddy mechanic. However, while a complete database of real reviews is useful, a lot of review verticals don’t offer a real reason to contribute when they start and fragment reviews across multiple domain names users may not care to remember.
Yelp largely solved the chicken and egg problem that comes with user review services, even if they allegedly paid users for reviews to start. They raised over $16 million and generated traction on the service through having a system seeded with content, rewarding top users with over-the-top parties, and focusing on a service that a wide variety of people use frequently, restaurants. The other large people-driven review site, Insiderpages, had the advantage of $9 million in financing and starting back in 2004. Despite this, Insiderpages went through a slew of layoff and eventually sold off to CitySearch for $13 million.
Yelp is already in the auto repair category, and is poised to expose their audience to other review verticals as well. They’ve already moved into non-geographical service reviews such as media outlets. The one question these review verticals need to ask themselves is “Can niche vertical review sites survive up against one general review site, Yelp or otherwise”? My feeling is no.