Local ain’t easy

Brad Feld invested in Judy’s Book, yet another effort to get people to submit reviews of local merchants and such. Fred Wilson concedes that the same issues folks like me raised with Riffs hold for Judy’s Book. Judy’s Book tries to encourage people to submit reviews by having them earn coffee cards and iPods — paying them, in other words. Paying for contributions is great. But it just indicates that it is otherwise difficult or impossible to get people to contribute content. And I’m not sure this will scale any better than previous efforts have.

I go to the North Jersey page and the questions I see are about earning those spiffs, not about good Mexican restaurants. And even if I did find those reviews, I don’t know who these people are; I don’t know whether to trust their taste. So such efforts have two problems: Getting enough contributions — which is a lot of contributions, since you’ll want to cover most vendors in most areas — and then worrying about the quality (aka trust) of those contributions.

Feld says part of the reason he invested in Judy’s Book is because it comes from Andy Sack, who created the very similar Abuzz, which was a success … well, at least it was for Sack and his investors (including Feld). But Abuzz was bought by the New York Times Company and proceeded to be a bust. There were efforts to get us involved when I was working at Advance and I resisted them all for the same reasons then as I do now:

1. It’s hard to scale local.

2. It’s hard to convince people to contribute content to me when they can now control content on their own.

If, instead, you can find ways to harness (aggregate, link to, make searchable, whatever) the content that people create under their own control and connected with their own identities (aka trust), then I think that will be superior.

There are models for local that may work, just not in a neat, centralized way. Baristanet is one. NashvilleIsTalking is another. Both leave control and content and trust and identity at the edges.

If you can figure out a way to enable that — with search, functionality, ratings of the raters, and revenue — then I think you’ll have a winner. Until then, I will wish luck to Judy’s Book and Riffs and other such services. But I think you’ll be just a centralized waystation on the path to a distributed future. Think edgey.