Om’s note: I wrote this long before the rumors about Google buying Yelp for $500 million started flying around. In my post from today that breaks down the Yelp-Google deal, I explain why it is a good move for Yelpers to take the money and run. I also say that it is a good move for Google in the short term. Over the long term, value of Yelp is limited.
The cold and damp December weather has taken hold here in San Francisco. It’s the kind of weather that forces you to stay indoors and hang out with friends — and find comfort in warm food. I typically don’t eat out thanks to some diet restrictions, but occasionally it’s good to break the rules. Like earlier this week, on the 8th birthday of GigaOM.
My friends and I settled on piping hot ramen noodles, but couldn’t agree on where to get them. In light of a conversation Liz and I had just had about how much she likes the tips she gets via online networks like Foursquare, I asked my Twitter followers to weigh in. The answers came back fast and furious, most of them pointing us to Katana-ya.
Once there, I turned on Foursquare to log my whereabouts (aka “check in”) with the service and, as expected, found some great tips on what to order. And while the soup I ended up with hasn’t done my salt intake any good, it sure lived up to my Foursquare-induced expectations.
Like Liz, I once would have turned to Yelp in order to make such a decision. My Twitter + Foursquare experience, by comparison, was simpler and more importantly, “friendlier” because it involved people in my social graph (it’s important, for the sake of our virtual relationships, to keep the fidelity of their messages high). And it all happened in near-real time.
This near-real-time interaction — and its outcome — makes me wonder if older services such as Yelp have a future. The growing popularity of smartphones such as the iPhone and BlackBerry are already impacting our usage behavior, making access to information more portable.
More importantly, virtually omnipresent wireless connectivity is impacting how we seek and consume information — and boosting interest in (if not mainstream adoption of) real-time social environments such as Foursquare and Twitter. When a service is assigned a time value, its DNA undergoes a mutation.
Indeed, in this new, always-connected world, spontaneity is going to be a defining feature of successful applications, and Yelp doesn’t have it. Yelp is a great place for leaving reviews and always will be, but like many web services of yore, it was crafted with a fixed connection in mind.
I wonder how many companies will find themselves on the sidelines as this shift towards a more dynamic, interactive and immersive Internet picks up steam.
This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.