I made the argument that Google’s weakness is community and social dynamics, which have become as fundamental to the Web as hyperlinks and which represent an opportunity for Yahoo or anyone else to change the game on Google. A perfect example is Google’s new “user-generated content” feature — adding reviews to Google Maps. The problem with this feature is that it’s entirely mechanical — there’s no sense of community. Compare that to Yelp, for example, which is a local review site with a strong community, and which actually trumps Google by using the maps API.
Here is a search for Vietnamese in Washington, DC on Yelp — notice how the restaurants are all located on Google maps.
But here’s what really distinguishes Yelp — each review is marked with a user profile, which lists how many reviews that user has made, giving you a sense for how active they are. Each review also has social features — bookmark to your Yelp profile and send to a friend
The best part, though, is Yelp’s user profile, which gives a rich social context for the review that you are reading — the profile tells you more about who this person is, their other reviews, their friends on the system with similar tastes, ratings of the reviewer by other users (called “compliments”), local photos, and more.
Let’s compare this now to Google’s user reviews on Maps — here’s the same Vietnamese restaurant in Washington, DC on Google:
Ironically, Google is actually pulling in Yelp’s content, which is great for Yelp, but it highlights how cold and sterile reviews are on Google Maps — all of the user profile and social information has been stripped out and is only available on Yelp — again, great for Yelp.
Most striking is when you got to add a review on Google Maps, you see the form has has absolutely no social or community elements:
Google, of course, has the advantage of scale — the ability to force Maps results into the main Web results through Google Universal Search, which will force people into Google Maps, and force them to discover that they can write reviews. But what’s going to motivate them to do so? User-generated content is all about providing users with context, community and social connections. It’s not just about providing a form to fill out.
Google may seem like the master of the universe, but there is a fundamental aspect of the Web — how it connects people, not just information — that remains a blind spot. And it’s a weakness that can be exploited.