Revenge of the Critic: Curated Ratings Counter Mass Tastemaking

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Sarah Lacy writes an interesting column in TechCrunch about Gilt Group's new hotel group discount site Jetsetter. Her position is that this is a highly curated, highly selective discount-offering website that suits her tastes better than travel-rating site TripAdvisor or other big ratings services such as Yelp.Sarah Lacy writes an interesting column in TechCrunch about Gilt Group's new hotel group discount site Jetsetter. Her position is that this is a highly curated, highly selective discount-offering website that suits her tastes better than travel-rating site TripAdvisor or other big ratings services such as Yelp. I agree with her completely.

What's more, the Internet may have already passed the apogee of influence for these crowd-sourced, user-generated ratings engines. There are the usual complaints. Savvy hotels and restaurants know how to game these ratings engines. And users are generally way too nice because they are... well, too nice!

But the truth is probably closer to this. Matters of taste are not best determined by a voting system. The Era of Mass Tastemaking online is officially over.

The Downside of Unanimous High Ratings

Witness my recent experiences with ratings from the behemoths of the business. Two out of my last three restaurant visits (including one horrific experience) have been absolute disasters that flew in the face of nearly unanimous high ratings given to these establishments by mass ratings sites. A recent skiing trip to Tahoe sent us to a hotel that was supposedly kid-friendly. It was actually a semi-dive with paper-thin walls, a nasty smell, decaying bathrooms, and other lovely things that kids and parents alike enjoy on a ski trip. We had fun on that trip, but clearly not because of the hotel.

Better outcomes have come from seeking recommendations on Facebook from friends and even friends of friends, where loose social ties prevail. I trust the judgment of some bloggers and have always trusted the judgment of some magazines and newspapers. My trust comes largely from trying out their recommendations or already knowing the places they recommend and seconding the assessment of the curator.

New Social Rating-System Startups

As the engines of past curation -- magazines and newspapers -- continue to flag under economic pressure, the newer curation systems are gathering steam. A whole slew of social rating-system startups is emerging, including mobile-friendly Rummble.com and globally active Trusted Opinion. One of the biggest, Buzz.com, a subsidiary of AT&T (T), makes it very simple to only follow the recommendations of friends or people you like.

Sure, the legacy players have taken notice as well and have added features that let people better filter recommendations. But those sites are tied down with the baggage of nearly a decade's worth of reviews built up under the old "bigger is better" and "more is more accurate" mantras. They are also hostage to the "alpha" reviewers who supply the majority of the content on those sites. But all in all, it comes down to very simple advice: Don't trust strangers to tell you what you will like.
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