Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Few Ideas Part 2: A Reputation Engine

4164214743_8858eba712 In response to a request to talk about specific problems that technology can be used to solve in Nigeria, I wrote “A Few Ideas”. This was a misleading title since only one idea was actually discussed. The plan had been to discuss 3 different ideas in the post, but it turned out that that would have been too much for one post. So I’ll be detailing two ideas in two following posts starting with this one.

In the first post, I suggested a mobile app for improving vehicular and road safety by crowd-sourcing a map that could warn drivers that they were approaching a bad spot in a road, and could potentially be used by governments to plan road maintenance. This second idea is also something of a crowd-sourced mapping solution. In Nigeria, we are way too used to bad customer service. I walk into a shop, get treated badly and the next customer walks into the same shop, gets treated the same way and the cycle continues. We should break this cycle.

Specifically, I would like to propose an app where Nigerians can go online to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down for a specific product, service, institution or facility or the intersection of these. As simple as that.

So if I find that the service at the Mr. Bigg’s in Ajah is exemplary, I can go online look to see if it is already rated on the site. If it is already rated, I can give it my own rating. If it is not, I can add the facility, tag the service, provide the location and add my own rating. Then someone else who wants to go to the same place to buy food can look it up on the site, see the ratings it has received over time and make an informed decision. This system will also be kept as simple as possible either excluding the means of providing longwinded reviews entirely, or limiting free text to something even shorter than the Twitter standard 140 characters. It also a product that could be built on top of existing social networking platforms in order to make use of the existing relationships people have built on the likes of Facebook and Twitter. This would strengthen the value and validity of the ratings.

With an app like this, we can begin to build what amounts to a reputation engine for various business and services from large corporate chains to small traditional markets, government institutions, schools and social services. It could even serve as a discovery engine for these services. The value to the end user is that you get to see what people really experience as opposed to what the service advertises. So I go to the places where people are enthusiastic and avoid the places where people get mistreated.

The businesses themselves could potentially receive value from this. So if I run an institution that has branches, I can go online to compare the reputations of my Apapa branch and my Ikeja to see how they are doing in the eyes of the public. I could also see how my competitors are reputed compared to my business. I could use it to make investment decisions for my business.

How does the developer monetise? Adverts, for one. People are already thinking of products and services as they visit this site, so they are already in the frame of mind to click on links. I’m not even suggesting a Google Adsense thing here, I mean the developer selling adverts directly to businesses. That way, they get to keep more of the revenue and can do hyper local services better. The developer can also develop and sell analytics services to businesses that could assist them in their planning and customer relationship management.

Just like the first week’s idea, there is nothing inherently original and groundbreaking in this idea. Review sites have been on the internet for most of it's history. The American website Yelp does something pretty similar this. The Kenyan site GotIssuez is more activist, but uses the same principles and the recommendation engine in Amazon.com is one of the reasons for the fantastic growth the site experienced. Forum sites like Nairaland do this type of thing in free flowing interactions on the site. However something that targets the Nigerian marketplace in a structured, searchable form and addresses our own needs has great social change potential as well as good business potential too. In addition building a mobile component into it so that people can rate from their phones, search for ratings and even search for products and services would make it more powerful and useable.

Of course a system like this could easily be manipulated to make a particular business or service look really good and another one look really bad, so technology would need to be developed or adopted to prevent this kind of gaming. There are all sorts of challenges I can see with this product such as Yelp has experienced, but it would serve as a good means for good service to be publicised and bad service to be known and avoided.


Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down --- Image by © Matthew Borkoski/Monsoon/Photolibrary/Corbis as found on Flickr.com