Recommendations are a powerful feature on the social web. They represent real value, just look at the king of recommendations Amazon.com making huge revenues with it. And while I do look at them at times, I am always a bit reluctant to use them for the really important stuff. Same goes for Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, Twitter and many other services like that. From a business perspective they offer a new and unique way to be connected to potential customers. From a customer perspective they offer me the value of the views of other customers. It’s big, and there is value all around!
So why am I reluctant to use them? I have 3 primary reasons:
1. The interaction leading to a recommendation makes it more valuable
When I am looking for a recommendation I tend to turn to friends and use 1-on-1 channels to get information. I call my brother, I e-mail a friend, I talk to a colleague. Why? Because I know them, I trust them, and the exchange of chit-chat serves a social need. Although this process has been copied to the web, it tends to deteriorate in quality fast. I think mostly because the recommendation has overtaken the process of interaction itself (chit-chat) and we underestimate the importance of that interaction.
An example to explain. Chris Brogan or Robert Scoble can be seen as professional and great recommenders. They share stuff that matters and they bring along a lot of trust, experience and expertise along, so the things they share are valuable to whoever receives it. But what is more valuable? Chris or Robert publishing relevant links and tips, or you sitting down with either one and in that conversation you obtain recommendations for something that is important to you. The first situation is great, the second may be priceless.
2. It’s difficult to determine if a recommendation can be trusted
Many recommendation systems have been played by the business or brand. Looking for a new book? Who knows who actually wrote the recommendation? For all I know the recommendation was written by the author or a competitor author. It reduces trust and makes me rely less on these ‘reviews’. I know there is technology to help us here, but it is still a tough problem to resolve. I don’t care about 100 great reviews from people I don’t know, I care about talking to someone about it and then making up my own mind about it. And given point 1) I’m a bit reluctant to use services like Yelp, Facebook or Foursquare to see what my friends are saying about some topic. It will provide value, but will not replace 1-1 interaction. And I don’t need those services to connect to these people. They are my friends.
3. The world becomes a ‘Lonely Planet’
I don’t like the Lonely Planetization’ of the world that we live in. When I go on holiday and use the Lonely Planet as my guide I know one thing. I’ll be visiting places that millions of other tourists have visited too. That is not so bad, but the real killer is that it takes away the adventure and surprise of discovering things yourself. in other words, it isn’t so important to me to discover new places (that’s nearly impossible), but it is important to me that I do most of the discovery myself! The surprise is what makes life fun and valuable. Knowing beforehand that 100 people liked or disliked the place takes away the opportunity for me to make up my own mind.
The social web is quickly turning into a peer recommendation, wisdom of the crowds type of marketplace. It’s a logical next step and we will gain value from it. But besides this inevitability I’ll try to keep holding on to meeting people in real-life and gaining insight from that interaction for as long a I can.