Lunch, a review site that made its debut earlier this year, is launching a new feature it calls micro reviews — highly condensed reviews on just about anything, with a maximum length of 140 characters. You’ll be able to see a stream of incoming reviews on the site’s homepage, and you can also syndicate the microreviews you write to Twitter and Facebook.
Of course, review sites aren’t anything new. Neither are so-called ‘micro reviews’ — we’ve seen a number of sites that invite users to submit condensed reviews rather than the lengthier entries you’ll find on sites like Yelp. But there are a few things that make Lunch a little bit different, not the least of which is CEO J.R. Johnson’s ultimate goal with the site: to make the world a better place by changing the way people think about each other.
A lofty goal to be sure, and one that’s going to be extremely difficult. So how does Lunch plan to do it?
Johnson explains that review sites in general tend to change the way people think about what they’re doing — a phenomenon he watched unfold in the travel industry (he founded VirtualTourist in 1999, which sold to Expedia last year). Johnson says that during his time at VirtualTourist, he observed that people who consumed content on the site tended to be more analytical during their own travels, because they had the intent of sharing their thoughts with other members of the site once they got back home. He hopes that Lunch’s new microreviews will have the same effect, encouraging people to more analytically observe the world around them as they look for things to relay back to their peers on Lunch.
He says this effect could also be magnified because of the way Lunch’s recommendation engine (called a “Similarity Network”) works. Based on reviews you’ve submitted and other actions on the site, Lunch tries to pair you up with other members that it thinks are most similar to you — the idea being you’d rather read a review from one or two very similar people than dozens of reviews from users you know nothing about. Johnson’s theory is that if you’re going to be sharing your reviews with a highly relevant audience, you’re going to be even more analytical in your daily life.
Johnson says that the big picture here is to help people understand eachother better, allowing them to use the Similarity Network to find some common ground where they wouldn’t otherwise and encouraging people to approach life with a more critical perspective. And because the site deals with pretty much any topic, running the gamut from ice cream reviews to politics, there’s a lot of things for people to potentially connect on. Micro reviews are a start — a “critical thinking onramp” — and more robust features in the future will continue the trend.
This all sounds nice in theory, but Johnson’s goals are going to be really hard to see through. For one, the site is still quite small, and there are countless other review sites out there, including both generalized sites like Lunch and niche sites. Making the world a better place is a great long-term goal, but in the short term, Lunch is going to need to find a way to drive people to use the site by offering something its competitors don’t. And even if Lunch had an exceptionally large userbase, I have a hard time believing the service would be able to put much of a dent in the prejudices that run throughout the world.