News of the day: the Zagats have sold their restaurant-reviewing empire to Google.
It seems to me that while this is certainly business news and people who are making money are definitely about to make more, it doesn't mean very much to those of us who are interested in good food. The acquisition is being touted as a big step into local content for Google (read the thinking here), and that may be true, but is it good local content? Let's talk...
The New York Times article says, “Google has agreed to buy Zagat, the longtime guide to restaurants around the country, in an effort by the search giant to expand its local offerings,” and goes on to explain that—like everything printed on paper— Zagat has faced stiff online competition. After partnering with several onliners, after four years of shopping themselves around, they sealed the deal with Google today.
Most serious foodies I know, though, have never really trusted Zagat guides, which depended on citizen journalism or “user generated content” way before the onliners coined the term. Masses of innocuous quotes from anonymous people—which form the content in Zagat and many websites like Yelp—don’t add up to an informed assessment of a restaurant.
And lately, there have been articles about the prevalence of fake reviews on websites like Yelp, which depend on "user generated content." (Not just restaurant reviews, reviews of everything.)
Cornell researchers have even come up with formulae for detecting fake reviews.
So I don't really get what Google is gaining. Who(m) do you trust?
Even local papers, including the Salt Lake Tribune, seem to have abandoned the idea of an experienced, dedicated staff restaurant reviewer in favor of huge quantities of listings. Some are partnering with online entities for their restaurant sections. The Trib's new Now Salt Lake site, which you would expect to be able trust for informed local content, has something like 14 listings for Five Bucks Pizza. How is this helpful? Don’t we all have apps for this already?
Better to get an opinion of a restaurant from an experienced diner who has enough command of the language to convey those experiences accurately.
(Well, of course I think so—restaurant reviewing has been part of my life for the last oh-my-god-has-it-really-been-30 years.)
Whether you agree or disagree with a critic’s views is another matter—at least you know they’re grounded in personal knowledge. The truth is, NOT everyone’s an expert. You need passion for the subject to bother to think about it hard enough to offer a valuable opinion.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all this has to be on printed paper. Ted Scheffler has been writing about food in Utah for decades; he can offer you perspective. Serious food blogs like gastronomicslc.com and slceats.com are also good sources.
But I do think that a single informed person’s assessment is vastly more relevant than an aggregation of jabberers who don’t even sign their names to their opinions.
In print or online.
No matter how big the brand.