Meet Zomato

You hate and love them. But review sites are a fact of life and are here to stay.

In Melbourne, the biggest of them all is Urbanspoon, which is about to be relaunched in a few weeks as Zomato with local community managers and content creators on the ground. And the team looks to be improving some of Urbanspoon’s shortcomings by ranking trusted reviewers and changing the point scoring system.

A history of review sites

Yelp! was the first review site to introduce community managers to Australia in 2011 and for a brief moment Google/Zagat employed a community manager. Google even had a stall at Taste of Melbourne in 2012 where you could win prizes for reviewing. But it hasn’t been seen since (at least by me) though remains important to have a few reviews on for search engine optimisation.

Then of course there is the ubiquitous Facebook where fans and customers can like and review businesses.

No doubt Facebook’s influence will grow but for now the new Urbanspoon/Zomato is the place to look in Melbourne.

Zomato in Melbourne and Sydney

I caught up with Zomato’s Melbourne-based community manager Pranav Singh and Sydney based Nick Barraclough over Skype to talk about how Urbanspoon will change.

The big change Pranav tells me is that Zomato has 1300 employees worldwide and a local presence (content, marketing and sales teams) in every city it serves vs Urbanspoon, which was run remotely with 40 people based in Seattle.

Pranav arrived in Melbourne this January and Zomato has set up a content team that plans to visit every one of Melbourne’s 11,000 or so restaurants every three months.

Yes, you hear it right. Every three months Zomato plans to visit to update menus, take new pictures and ensure that details such as opening times and facilities are up to date.

In Melbourne one of the content team seniors is Jenny from Confessions of a Little Piggy.

Pranav’s and Nick’s roles as community managers is marketing – liaising with restaurants, bloggers and reviewers and working the social media for each city, which have very different reviewer and blogger ecosystems. Already they’ve been out and met a few local bloggers.

The local team really wants to get involved with restaurants and support them with regular weekly events and social media and to help them try new things. They’ll also be getting involved with events such as the Taste Festivals and other sponsorships.

Pranav says if restaurants want to be involved they are happy to try new things and be creative getting reviewers in to try new dishes and drinks and events.

The new Zomato will roll out in the next few weeks and with it the old Urbanspoon algorithm will change and bloggers and reviewers’ content transition will be seamless.

Big changes

Some changes will make restaurateurs happy; others not.

Bloggers should see their reviews migrated without change and will benefit from being recognised as trusted reviewers under a new scoring system.

Restaurants now will be scored out of 5 instead of 100. And let’s face it getting 3 out of 5 looks a lot more positive than a score of 67%.

Under the Urbanspoon 100 point system scores were simply added and averaged. Even if I was a trusted blogger and voted on the site and scored 80 points somebody else could come along with no reviews behind them and vote zero. It was as simple as 80 plus zero divided by 2. That equals a score of 40%.

A drop in scores

But some restaurants will see a drop in their scores. A Zomato algorithm will normalise scores to create a new distribution curve of scores.

For example, a straight transition from Urbanspoon would result in over 50% of the restaurants scoring 3.2–3.5, which does not really help a consumer decide which venue is a better place to eat.

The absolute rating curve will be flattened to create a comparative distribution curve that means fewer than 30% of the restaurants will fall within the 3.2–3.5 range. They’ve also cleared out a lot of spam votes.

Like I said, some venues will see their score change. Some will drop and others may improve.

A better experience

Zomato hopes that these changes will help ensure a better experience for users, and make the process of deciding where to eat simpler and smoother.

On the positive side, Zomato is also going to rank reviewers on trust based on the numbers of reviews and interactions with the site.

Top reviewers and bloggers will be ranked higher than unknowns or people with only a few votes (whether their votes are positive or negative).

This means that scores will be a more realistic expression of what trusted reviewers really think. Any user has the opportunity to build a profile up on Zomato, taking them from Level 1 Foodie to Expert Foodie.

A lot of restaurants knocked Urbanspoon for allowing one-off votes from what they allege to be competitors and their friends and staff while running an algorithm that seeming deleted more positive votes than negative.

No doubt there will be a few grumbles at first, but one Zomato has settled in it looks like its a big improvement on the old Urbanspoon system.

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