Chuck a stone into the UK startup scene at the moment and the chances of you hitting an entrepreneur peddling a site which allows people to share and rate things – anything in fact – in a local area, are pretty damn high. Let’s look at one list: Welovelocal, Revmap, Wehanghere, FridayCities, Qype, Tipped and TrustedPlaces. And I’m sure I have missed a few others.
Admittedly not all of these sites have significant funding. Some are little more than Google Map mashups just ticking over on a server. But it’s quite clear that not all will survive, and the US market, which is further down this road, is providing an early view of what might happen next.
In the US right now there is a shake-out happening amongst sites which allow people to create local reviews. Judy’s Book is shutting down operations. Other players have fallen in the last year, including Zipingo, while Insider Pages was sold for a tiny profit to CitySearch. One of the few remaining, and doing OK, is Yelp, despite fierce competition from Yahoo! and Google.
So does the shakeout in the US provide an indication of where the UK is headed? Suddenly the US market seems to have worked out that local reviews might have something to do with the mobile phone. Whrrl is a new, principally mobile, service that allows users to aggregate information as they visit different places. Reviews based on location are filtered based on ratings via the accompanying social network. Some commentators are calling it ‘Yelp plus Twitter’.
A wiki format in Whrrl enables users to write reviews, add photos etc. But the key with Whrrl is that you can filter your searches based on your trusted network before expanding the search outside that network. This Facebook-like approach means users have a lot of control over the information they publish and make visible to their network. Client software on the phone is supported on about 10 handsets for the AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile networks. Whrrl’s parent company, Pelago, has raised $7.4 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Jeff Bezos and Trilogy Equity Partners.
Over here in the UK Rummble, founded by Andrew Scott, is doing something similar, but with a twist. Currently in closed beta and privately funded, Rummble could be the Whrrrl for the UK.
You build your social network on Rummble with a basic relationship (i.e. friend, relation or business) but then apply tags to that. Rummble has an algorithm which works out which reviews by users in your network to trust, based on your behaviour and relationship to them. Three years in development and re-launched from its former incarnation as Playtxt, Rummble is hoping its functionality between web and mobile – and ultimately GPS-enabled mobiles – will give it the edge when some consumers tire of networks which don’t intelligently filter results or deliver a decent experience to the mobile.
Rummble still needs to be proven once out of private beta. I doubt we’ll be dumping Twitter for microblogging, or sites like Trusted Places, for local reviews, just yet. But the more I have looked into Rummble the more I have noticed several types of services incorporated into it, from Socialight and Loopt to location services like Plazes. There is a lot more to this service than meets the eye at first, and it’s emphasis on mobile is definitely the right instinct.