Every few minutes my iPhone oinks. It's not a barnyard-themed ringtone, but a new app that encourages users to rate anything in the world around them. The development team at Milk uses a quick snort as Oink's notification about things being rated in your community. TinyReview serves a similar purpose, but its execution is far more simple: Take an iPhone photo of something nearby and rate it in three lines or less. Recently, some ex-Googlers also entered this crowded mobile app category with Stamped, which asks users to give their "stamp of approval" to restaurants, music, books and other things.
While the average smartphone owner might care very little about taking photos of a good meal or a favourite book, the world of recommending things is big business. Hunch, which launched a couple of years ago, has been quietly working to build what they call a "taste graph" for the Internet. They're monitoring what their users like and, over time, hope to recommend things based on an individual's preferences. On Monday eBay acquired the New York City start-up for what some bloggers are saying is a price tag of $80-million in an effort to "revamp their own e-commerce recommendations."
Digital reviews have a long history. From Yelp, which launched in 2004, to TripAdvisor, which has been collecting travel reviews for a decade, there is no shortage of product and service opinions online. Today, what we are seeing are tools that are smarter, faster and – most importantly – more social. There is an instantaneous quality to these various recommendations apps: A person can grab a latte from a local coffee shop and notify friends immediately if it's worth a visit or worth the five dollars for the hot (or maybe not-so-hot) beverage.
Not all of these review apps will survive. As we've seen in the app marketplace time and time again, users can be fickle, many ditch a download after a one-time fling. TinyReview might be one to run into some problems, because while the service offers up easy to annotate photos, you need a Facebook account to sign up (not always a fave feature). Moreover, unlike Oink and Stamped, TinyReview doesn't appear to have the deep-pocketed backers often necessary to kickstart a large number of users.
This week TechCrunch reported that Oink reached more than 100,000 downloads. This is thanks in part to its well-known founder, Kevin Rose (many technology early-adopters know him as the guy who launched Digg and Revision3). Oink also has a promising gaming component to the app. The ability to build "cred" to become a resident expert. For example, Rose is a Level 8 sushi expert, giving his 25,000 followers a metric by which to rate his opinion on the best rolls in town. The revenue opportunities for Oink include working with businesses who want to reach their top influencers. The app is beautifully designed and easy to use, but as one blogger commented there is a lack of structure. If you want to review random things in your basement, those ratings are given the same weight as a those on a commercial product like a package of Pocky or a bottle of Dogfish Head beer.
Stamped works to give users a little more focus, recommending that you review books, restaurants, songs or movies. When you sign up you're given 100 stamps. The more your friends like what you recommend, the more stamps you get (if you run out of stamps, you can get more by deleting some stuff you've reviewed). This encourages people to review cool stuff (just things you like). The app has backing from both Google Ventures and Bain Capital, giving it enough cash to stand strong as a long-term player in this space.
When you look at the top mobile downloads and web services that are building social recommendations, there are dozens of companies gaining momentum. As it stands right now, it looks like Oink and Stamped have the brightest futures. As long as they continue to attract new and active users, and give businesses an opportunity to get in on the action, they'll keep oinking and stamping their way into the hands of users keen to recommend everything in sight.