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Business - Written by on Thursday, July 17, 2008 16:50 - 3 Comments

Buyer Beware: What’s “New” May be Old

The same problems that plagued 1.0 resources like phone books and encyclopedias still plague even the best of their 2.0 successors. These legacy issues mainly regard reliability as it pertains to accuracy. After a phone book is published and distributed, it is instantly out-of-date as phone numbers are disconnected and addresses changed. Unfortunately, this is an issue developers have yet to circumvent.

As documented in The New York Times’ article about Urbanspoons, a free Apple iPhone application that helps users “find restaurants by neighborhood, cuisine or price,” reality may be quite different from what Urbanspoons tells you. The writer’s Urbanspoons search led him to a restaurant that had been closed for six months, yet it still appeared highly recommended in the application. Inconvenient at worst, Urbanspoons’ inaccuracy is easily forgotten over a glass of wine at a restaurant that is actually still open for business.

On a more sinister level, outdated materials can be damaging to one’s (or one’s neighborhood, and by extension, their property value) reputation. Take, for example, rottenneighbor.com, “the first real estate search engine of its kind allowing you to rate and review good and bad neighbors before and after you move so you can make a smart real estate decision.” From the get-go, many users walk a fine line between honest, albeit negative, reviews and pure defamation. So what happens to reviews of neighbors after they move? The reviews stay with the location, so the new neighbor moving in will turn up in a search as a bad neighbor. And some of these reviews are quite unsavory, think “cat killer.” In a search of my neighborhood, I found a review of a man who was a resident of an apartment in 1999. While it is highly unlikely either party still lives in the building, the building will turn up, nine years later, as the home of a “freaky porn addict and nudist.”

Users of online directory resources should beware of outdated reviews and content. It’s common sense, but that shiny new iPhone may cloud better judgment.  In the meantime, I will continue posting reviews of all of my least favorite neighbors and take reviews of others with a grain of salt. You never know, they may or may not still be there.


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Jul 17, 2008 20:28

I think you are easily forgetting a premise of these 2.0 applications in that they are trying to provide information at the least possible cost. This premise drives the user-generated focus of the content of these programs. The capacity to moderate 2.0 programs adds costs, in terms of time and/or money. The ability to recover this implicit cost needs to be present to propagate more effective moderation. (Note: The recovery does not have to be extrinsic like $, but can be some form of intrinsic recovery as well) Until then, better buy a copy of Zagat’s for restaurants and talk to the neighbours before renting your apartment.

Jul 18, 2008 11:11

Good point, Brent.

However, even expensive data may be wrong. I occasionally get letters addressed to my ex wife, despite being divorced 27 years ago and despite having moved to another town, having remarried 22 years ago, and having moved three times since that marriage. Whoever buys that particular mailing list is paying for trash.

Brittany Creamer
Jul 22, 2008 21:50

I couldn’t agree more with you Brent that a major objective of Web 2.0 (and business in general) is to maximize utility and provide the best product at the least cost. In true Net Gen fashion, I would rather find the occasional error in a free application than pay for service that may or may not be better, especially if the content I am paying a premium for is user generated.

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