Deconstructing Foodspotting

If you were going to create a new application or tool to take advantage of the current trends in social media, what elements would you include? Add your thoughts in the comments, but I'll share my wish list.

First, there should be some mobile component, or it should be entirely mobile. Much of the social media innovation currently is on the mobile front, and it dovetails with consumer media usage patterns.

Next, it should be tied to consumers' locations. GPS is one of those so-called killer apps for mobile devices, and it's almost a waste of the mobile device not to incorporate location in some way.

It should probably look like an application, rather than a mobile Web site.

You'll probably want to include check-ins as some component of it, but maybe not have that as the entire purpose. We still don't know how far the check-in craze will go or if it will scale.

You'd want to incorporate the camera. After talking and texting, photography is generally the next most popular mobile activity across age demographics.

If you're really smart, you'll incorporate the one thing social media users can't shut up about: Justin Bieber. Or food. And in aggregate, food is probably slightly more popular than Bieber and has a little more staying power. So yes, the safe bet's on food.

There should be points, providing a layer of social currency.

Finally, you'll create a lexicon around what you're doing. Facebook owns the word "fan," Twitter owns "follow," and Foursquare may well own "check in," and definitely owns "mayor." Creating or defining a language around the experience can further enmesh consumers' consciousness.

If you throw all of these together, you wind up with Foodspotting, which I effectively just deconstructed ("Top Chef" fans will appreciate the gastronomic reference). Unlike some of the location-based check-in applications like Foursquare and Gowalla that are really only valuable for users who participate, Foodspotting caters to both content producers and more passive consumers, which instantly expands its potential reach.

Obsessive foodies are the primary target. They can upload photos of what they eat, enter the item name and where it was photographed, and then optionally add commentary before uploading it. They earn points when posting photos, and also when others say they want to "nom" dishes pictured.

There's also a much broader audience of anyone who wants to find a good place to eat -- the same people who would check Citysearch, Yelp, or Menupages. Instead of looking up starred reviews, they can flip through photos of food near them. It can help consumers decide where to eat, or even what to eat when they're there. Last week, I was dining at Urban Farmer, a steakhouse in Portland, Ore., with two others, and loaded up the Foodspotting iPhone app, which immediately displayed a photo of a butterscotch sundae from that restaurant. I checked with the waitress to see if the dessert was any good, and she loved it. Not only did we each order one, but one of my compatriots changed his dining plans to save room (this may shock you, but I had no such discipline).

Appealing to these two audience will make the difference between a lot of these emerging sites, apps, and platforms. If they're just focused on the content creators, that's great -- there are enough of them that they can sustain a profitable business. Forrester's technographics tool shows 24% of U.S. Internet users are "creators," and the number's been growing. But there's a broader audience that needs to be served.

Even content creators are usually behaving like Forrester's "spectators"; I spend far more time reading blogs than blogging, and I read at least a hundred Menupages reviews for every one that I write. Foodspotting provides value for those engaging in search and discovery rather than constant content creation. That's true for Twitter and Facebook too, in a way that's not as true for Foursquare, Gowalla, Plancast, and other services that are attracting a lot of buzz right now. Most of us are spectators, we're often influenced by content creators, and we want to reap the value from that content.

If we can't, we'll just have to find the next bandwagon to hop on, which undoubtedly will be Bieberspotting.

6 comments about "Deconstructing Foodspotting".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 26, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.

    Another thing to add that I find missing from the social tools is getting something back. If you upload a picture, recommendation, etc. about a dish, you should be able to get the recipe back as a direct message from the restaurant. Now you have an interaction rather than a limited broadcast. This also sets up monetization options via CPRD (cost per recipe delivery), which should cement a loyal customer relationship. It creates an "insider" set among the restaurant's (or whatever food venue applies) clientele. Now you've taken foodie to a new level.

  2. Levi Wardell, March 26, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    If we're going to go as far as to spot good food stops, why not allow easy ordering while on the road directly from the app.

    It would be nice to see a list of resteraunt types (fast food, italian, chinese, entertainment etc) based on popularity for an area. I know in the small town I live in there are like 235 italian restaurants and two crappy mexican restaurants. This would give a quick indication that 'okay, the mexian food in this town isn't so hot so lets have something else'

  3. Lisa Foote from MixMobi, March 26, 2010 at 12:31 p.m.

    David - Outstanding column, as usual. Love the "Justin Bieber. Or food." advice.
    Jonathan - You're right, there must be a give/get relationship here. For loyal customers, why not promotions appropriate to the restaurant type? Perhaps VIP seating for a private chef's dinner for the white tablecloth venue? Maybe free fries for the QSR?

  4. David Berkowitz from MRY, March 26, 2010 at 3:29 p.m.

    Loving the ideas here from everyone. I know @foodspotting saw the post so hopefully they're absorbing all the feedback too, and perhaps some smart restaurateurs will catch this for ideas beyond that app.

  5. Eric Suesz from Ning, March 30, 2010 at 2:23 a.m.

    You're spot on, as usual, with your observations. They will probably succeed because they can tap into people who are normally passive and encourage them to participate. Foodspotting is doing all the right things.

    I might suggest one other avenue they could pursue: Getting satisfied diners to send positive feedback directly to the people who make the dishes that get loved the most. Shake your phone vigorously to indicate how much you love a particular dish, and we'll let the restaurant know via their Twitter account (or Facebook or email or what have you).

    Thanks for the great read!


  6. Jonny Cottone from twiddish, March 31, 2010 at 8:22 p.m.

    Hi David,

    I wanted to let you know that twiddish appreciates the attention you helping to generate in the hyperlocal dish-review space and invite you and your readers to check our at at

    Also wanted to thanks Jonathan and Eric for their comments and let them know that twiddish recognizes that restaurants play a vital role as listeners, and as such, are being encouraged to join in on the twiddish conversations.

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