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Lunch.com Communities Let You Build Your Own Niche Reviews Site

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Last August, we wrote about Lunch.com, a reviews site that’s setting out with the goal to make the world a better place by changing the way people think about each other (as I wrote then, it’s a pretty lofty goal). Today, the company is launching a new feature called Communities that lets users build their own review sites around any niche topic. If you’d like to try founding a community, you can do so using the beta code “techcrunch”.

The new feature can be likened to a ‘Ning for review sites’. As a community founder, you select a topic on whatever you’d like, then invite other users to contribute reviews and other content (you can elect to moderate this as it comes in). For examples, check out Strollerland, a new community that’s dedicated to reviewing strollers. There’s also Gluten Free Groupies, for (surprise) people who like to talk about gluten-free foods.

The benefits of this kind of niche-community setup are clear — if you cater to a group of people passionate about a given topic, they’re probably going to be more knowledgeable and engaged than your average user. I’d rather take recommendations from someone who reads about strollers all day than from a guy who liked the one he chose at random at Wal-Mart.

CEO J.R. Johnson says that Lunch’s system allows for the creation of multiple communities around the same topic (for example, there could be ten different reviews communities that revolved around bicycles). Because all of these niche review sites are built on the Lunch.com platform, the site can use its universal search and suggestion engine to recommend content you may be interested in, even if it’s found on a different community than the one you’re currently browsing.

However, it sounds like new communities may have some trouble getting off the ground.  Johnson says he expects that lots of the niche review sites will be launched by existing online communities (say, a Yahoo Group).  For them, the system should work well, but if you just want to launch a review site about stamps but don’t already have many friends who are interested in the topic, you may have trouble getting much traction.  That said, these niche communities will be exposed to search engines, and if you produce relevant content Lunch’s recommendation engine should also help introduce your community to new users.

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