The Local Problem

I know first hand that building a local or travel listings/review/recommendation site is extremely difficult. You are judged by the quality of your listings: are they comprehensive, are they up-to-date and looking at the community: are there enough reviews to make it interesting. As an industry, we suck.

Case in point: today GoodRec launched – my former co-worker Mihir Shah gave an amazing demo at TechCrunch 50 and it really made me want to use the service. It really seems slick and I think they’ve got a nice user experience approach to the problem. So I did what all users do to validate such a service: looked in my own neighborhood first to see how good it was. And sadly, I saw listings for 3 businesses that closed over a year ago and one that closed 2.5 years ago. Ugh – that’s a horrible first impression of their product and I’m guessing its not their fault – just licensed data from somewhere.

But how, as an industry, do we solve this problem? There are a bizillion little startups like mine and like GoodRec and we all have the same problem: how do you stay up on all these businesses? CitySearch and Yelp have gotten enough users to keep up to date on it, google tries to crawl their way around it and other businesses (like mine) just try to stay super focused and instead of listing every last place, only listing the biggies and places recommended by users.

Is there a solution? Should there be an “open directory” of local businesses? The big guys certainly see their database as being an asset to be guarded, but what if every site could leverage a giant database for free in exchange for giving data updates / closure reports back to the collective? Then couldn’t all these local services win or lose not on data, but on the community or quality of the service they offer.

What do you think? Is there an easy solution? The people that license this data have so far proven they can’t keep up – so how do we solve this?