At TechCrunch Disrupt NYC last year, Gauri Manglik, Mike Lewis, and Orion Burt launched SpotOn, a recommendation engine in app, which served its users suggested local businesses based on their friends’ activity on Foursquare, Facebook, and more. The co-founders quickly found, however, that its customers were using the app more as a social networking tool than for its recommendations. So, based on user feedback, the team changed directions and built a new app, today called Fondu.
Manglik describes the new service as “Twitter meets Yelp for restaurants,” in that the team wanted to solve Yelp’s noise problem not with more noise from Twitter, but by targeted, friendsourced recommendations. In other words, a review written on Yelp goes into a community directory, meaning that the recommendations you peruse likely come from people you don’t know, and most users want to skip past the noise right to their immediate network when looking for a new place to grab a bite. Thus, with Fondu, you only see reviews from your friends, or the most popular reviews that have been one-upped by the Fondu community.
What’s more, Fondu has officially launched a redesign that, among the new features, shows that the app is getting serious about search and discovery. The redesign includes a new search and discovery tab to replace the old “Popular” tab, which allows users to search for anything from “sushi” to “dive bar” and view relevant nearby reviews, prioritized by those written by friends. For those who remember SpotOn, the new discovery feature also resurrects a map mode that enables users to swipe through destinations on an interactive map.
Fondu users have written over 20,000 reviews of restaurants across the world (with the majority focusing on New York, San Francisco, and Seattle), and now every review on Fondu has a “bookmark” button that allows one to save the review to their own bookmark list, which is also viewable on Fondu’s map mode. This means that, as users move about town on the go, they can see the places they have saved that they either wanted to try for the first time or couldn’t wait to try again. Users also now have easy access to this list and the map of their bookmarks on the app’s “Friends Feed.”
The new Fondu also boasts the ability to snap photos to include as context in those bite-sized reviews, whether it’s a photo of the food itself, the ambiance, or company, along with the ability to recommend restaurants directly to friends and family. After visiting a bar that you know your best friend will love, for example, users can simply add them in the “recommend to friends” section, which works even if they aren’t on Fondu. Users can send recommendations through email, Facebook, or Twitter.
Fondu isn’t just making its users happy though—the team has also begun partnering with restaurants like GustOrganics in NYC that are top-rated among its users, taking a cue from Zagat and others by offering restaurants the chance to display those top-rated stickers in their windows. Of course, this is all well and good, but there is plenty of competition for user attention in the foodie app space. Google’s $151 million acquisition of Zagat means that the company will be playing an important role in Google’s SoLoMo strategy, but while Zagat has plenty of brand recognition, the app is still priced at $10, so there’s plenty of room for free apps to undercut it price-wise.
That still leaves the immensely popular Yelp, as well as apps like IAC’s Urbanspoon, which offers some similar features to the fast-growing app, and Food Finder. Matchbook also offers a nifty bookmarking feature, with some great deals to boot. Plus, there’s Tasted Menu.
So, in the end, it really comes down to price, design, and whether or not your friends are actually using it. Fondu wins on pricing, and it looks great, but it’s still lacking a bit in the last area. Yelp is a monster in terms of reviews and it’s great for finding places quickly, within reach, but Fondu can beat Yelp in terms of ease of use, its reviews are succinct and more likely to be about restaurants you actually care about. There’s still plenty of room for a new personalized, friendsourced foodie app to be successful, but those friends have to be there (and be active) for it to win on the user experience front.