Facebook Professional Services Isn’t Ready to Recommend
It’s hard to find a good plumber. Who’s going to do a good job at a reasonable rate? Who’s going to show up on time? Who’s not going to get judgmental when they fish the liner notes from the Sports Night box set out of the toilet? Facebook thinks it knows. No, not your Facebook friends; an entirely new feature called Facebook Professional services.
Facebook quietly launched Professional Services—you can check it out for yourself here—as a seemingly direct competitor to both Yelp and Angie’s List. It’s ambitious, to say the least; 84 distinct categories of service providers where I live, ranging from animal shelters to wedding planning, with no shortage of DJs and food consultants in between. The selections are all local, pre-set to your current geography, but you can specify results from seemingly anywhere, including international cities.
The listings also aren’t limited to those listed on the professional services landing page; the search box will return results for restaurants, bars, golf courses, and any other business category you can think of.
This fusion of both leisure and handiwork positions Facebook squarely against both Angie’s List and Yelp, the two established incumbents in the expansively popular world of people assigning stars and/or grades to things they like or don’t like on the Internet. Facebook’s timing may also prove to be auspicious; Angie’s List has been under intense shareholder pressure to sell, while Yelp appears to riding an endless gerbil wheel of lawsuits. Those kinds of distractions, combined with the Facebook’s omnibus approach, could give the social network an opening.
To take advantage, though, it’s going to have to work on the most important aspect of any recommendation engine: credibility.
Thumbs and Stars
While Facebook Professional Services makes perfect sense in theory, in practice it seems a little rough around the edges. That’s not the worst thing! It was, after all, launched without fanfare; if it hadn’t come to Search Engine Land’s attention, we still may not have known it even exists. It’s also still desktop-only, even though a location-aware mobile version makes even more sense. Everything about it indicates work-in-progress.
The secret’s out, though. And so are some odd recommendations.
“Well, there are credibility issues when P.F. Chang’s shows up as one of the best Asian restaurants in my city,” says Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, when asked her initial impressions of the service.
Similarly, a local search for best child care returned a top result that focused on autism spectrum disorders, followed by several traditional day care centers that received between 4.2 and 5.0 stars, in an inscrutable order, including one location that had zero stars and zero ratings. Meanwhile, day care centers in the area that are well-known and highly regarded among my peer group don’t appear in the top 30, including one that’s located within a few miles from my house, and has a 4.7 rating on 22 reviews.
That’s obviously anecdotal. But in local business searches, anecdotes matter. There are a handful of legitimate choices, and more importantly, a handful of reviews to evaluate them. Take the plumber problem. Among Facebook Professional Services’ top 10 recommendations, only one has more than 10 ratings. Five have no ratings at all. And the plumber I would recommend to my friends, if they were to, say, post a question on Facebook, is nowhere to be found.
It’s not clear how Facebook prioritizes its rankings, or whether they’re personalized based on friend reviews, or geographical proximity, or… anything, really. We’ve reached out to Facebook, and will update if and when we hear back.
One issue may be that Facebook simply isn’t thought of as a place to rate things in the way that Yelp and Angie’s List have been for years. You might “Like” a business’s Facebook page, particularly if you have some sort of emotional attachment to it, but how many have you ranked on a five-star scale? For that matter, until just now, did you even know a five-star scale existed?
Fortunately, there’s an easy answer to this: time. The more Facebook is known for crowdsourced references, the more the crowds will source for it. And with over a billion active users, you won’t find a bigger crowd.
“I think this is consistent with Facebook’s commerce vision over the years—to give people solid recommendations for anything they are looking to buy or consume,” says Mulpuru-Kodali. “The problem with asking your friends was that there was a scarcity of data problem, and aggregating reviews does solve that because you are pulling info from a much bigger pool of local people.”
Until Facebook gets where it needs to go, you may be better off just querying News Feed. Or just hit up the standard bearers, Yelp and Angie’s List, the latter of which seems unfazed. (Yelp declined to comment.)
“Consumers benefit most when there are multiple avenues for reliable information and we welcome more of them to the market,” says Angie’s List spokesperson Debra DeCourcy. “We’ve been in this business for more than 20 years so we have more depth than most but we’re also much more than a review site.”
Then again, so is Facebook.
Read this article: