Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Community Content

Being lovers, my wife and I spent some time in August wandering through Virginia (Williamsburg, Monticello, Shenandoah, Tangier Island...). Turns out, Bing and Google both produce very helpful results when you search for, say, “hotels near charlottesville va”. Both produce a list of hotels highlighted on a map. From the map, you can look at pictures, compare locations, check prices, and even zoom in for a panoramic street view.

The Bing Travel interface had an advantage in the way results were sorted by price. The Google interface had an advantage in the maps feature because when you zoom in or out, the search is re-launched and other hotel options appear in the view. Mind bogglingly cool stuff.

As amazing as the price and map stuff was, though, the most useful piece of information I encountered may have been the integrated reviews and ratings in the Google interface (Bing didn’t have enough reviews to be of any real use). One night, for example, we were tempted by what looked like a great price. The brand (hotel chain) was one we’d trusted before and the location seemed perfect for our plans. The reviews, though, told us what the map could not. “Sticky tables in the rooms.” “Mold in the bathroom.” “Some guests seem to be living there.” “Management surly and indifferent.” We’re price conscious, but not that price conscious—we went elsewhere.

The reviews and ratings are community content that Google is harvesting into their interface from non-Google sources. Most of the hotels I looked at on Google had more than 60 reviews that were harvested from online traveler communities like priceline.com and tripadvisor.com. When I can quickly browse through 60 reviews for a single hotel, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good sense of the place, a huge benefit to a casual searcher like me. People generally aren’t coming to Google to have a conversation about hotels. They might occasionally comment on a conversation they find there, but the vast majority of Google users are only going to be interested in reading what others have written.

I think the same holds true for ratings and reviews in library interfaces. The bulk of interesting reviews for a library interface are going to come from communities that come together specifically to talk about books (Goodreads, for example) or movies (IMDB, for example). As a builder of library interfaces, I’m interested in tapping into those communities. Users of my interface may occasionally want to add their comments to the mix, but mostly they want to see what others have said.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

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