Evite Expands Social Network

Social planning Web site Evite expanded its service with a bar and restaurant guide, powered by Evite user reviews and editorial reviews from InterActiveCorp (IAC) sister company Citysearch.

“Evite has been facilitating social networking for six years and in that time our users have organically built up the biggest online network of friends,” said John Foley, president of Evite. “We looked around for a way to provide real utility to our users, rather than just showing users who their friends are.”

Evite’s bar and restaurant guide is powered by the Evite Network, which generates recommendations for local establishments based on the information featured in user profiles, ratings and reviews. This information is matched to a user’s personal networks, made up of friends and colleagues who have either invited that user to an event or with whom the user has attended an event. Users are then given access to read recommendations and reviews about local places posted by their friends. Recommendations for places can also be based on overall popularity within a specific city.

“We think trying places that your friends are saying are the best places in town is better than surfing the Web,” Foley said.

The idea of tying user reviews to social networks is becoming a popular one. Idealabs is testing a service based on the concept called InsiderPages. Other start-ups in the space include Seattle-based Judy’s Book and San Francisco-based Yelp! PremierGuide has also incorporated such functionality into its technology offering.

Before settling on the idea of sharing user recommendations for bars and restaurants, the company considered professional networking and pure social networking applications. It was decided that professional networking wouldn’t fit with the Evite brand, so Evite’s parent company InterActiveCorp (IAC) instead bought ZeroDegrees for that purpose, Foley said. As for social networking, Foley calls that model “voyeuristic self-expression.”

“They [social networking companies] are kind of struggling to understand what they are, what utility they provide,” he said.

So instead, Evite looked within IAC to Citysearch, whose local database includes restaurants, retail, travel and professional services businesses. Evite will drive traffic to Citysearch from user reviews and recommendations. When possible, Evite will link to a paying advertiser on Citysearch over a merchant in the free Citysearch listings.

“We’ll only do it when it won’t compromise editorial integrity,” insisted Foley. “If there are 10 recommendations for sushi restaurants from people in your network, we’ll more likely than not link to paying merchants from a user’s home page, as long as everything is equal. We’re not going to misrepresent the recommendations, or put a paying merchant in unless it’s recommended by your friends.”

Citysearch offers merchants the opportunity for more prominent listings through a pay-per-click model. Local restaurants pay an average of $0.40 per click for their listings, Foley said.

If the service is successful, then Foley expects to add similar services, both with other InterActiveCorp sites and outside partners. Possible verticals to expand into include hotels, with IAC’s TripAdvisor; or professional services like home remodeling, doctors and attorneys.

“Once people understand the concept, They’ll see that networked information is more powerful than anything else. People are three times more likely to visit a restaurant recommended by a friend than one they find out about somewhere else,” Foley said.

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