If you’re on the hunt for a reasonably priced seafood restaurant in your area or you’re trying to figure out where to take four picky eight-year-olds for lunch that also serves margaritas, discovery sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon can unearth gems and help you stay away from garbage disaster establishments. But reading through the reviews on these sites can be time-consuming — plus, it’s hard to tell the shills from real people.
When you want a good place to go, nothing can draw you in faster than an image of the perfect cheeseburger or a steaming cup of tea. This is where Skedadel wants to make its mark as discovery app. The new image-based service culls pictures from Instagram to highlight places in your area that others are checking out. Skedadel organizes geo-tagged images into different categories — food, coffee, sights, nightlife, etc. It uses a specially-designed algorithm to determine the best places in each category in every given area, using data from Foursquare and elsewhere to create a visually-appealing and easy-to-navigate list of potential spots.
I’m in Toronto, so I decided to see how Skedadel stacked up to Yelp when it came to letting me choose a good cafe to finish of my day’s work. Searching for “coffee” near my neighborhood, Yelp pulled up all of my favorite places, though shops that have been around for longer had more reviews and placed higher on the list. When I searched for coffee places on Skedadel using my current location, a very similar roster of shops came up. So the algorithm guiding Skedadel does not veer wildly from what you’d get using a more traditional discovery service — but the experience of deciding does.
When I click on the Yelp page for my favorite cafe, it has almost all glowing reviews (I don’t mess with janky coffee shops) and a few reviewers have uploaded extra photos of the beautiful lattes and treats. There’s nothing wrong with it, but when I tap through to its page on Skedadel, I’m immediately greeted with those beautiful images. If I was trying to decide and I’d never been to the shop, the Skedadel profile would make me much more excited about going than the Yelp one because it’s easier to see how the place and its drinks look, and I get more of a feel for what the experience of going there is like. Of course, nuance is lost when you focus on images instead of text. Skedadel is actually a gift to venue owners because it tends to highlight positive experiences instead of alerting people to negatives. Sure, you’ll take the time to Instagram that mouth-watering pulled pork Eggs Benedict you had, but it’s much rarer to take the time to document that absolutely terrible, soggy Croque Madame you tried — so Skedadel may actually make places look better on average than they are, although the algorithm should compensate for overzealous foodies painting places in too perfect a light.
Skedadel has an especially cool feature that shows you the top picks based on the time of day and day of the week — and the recommendations were spot-on for me, directing me to one of my favorite cafe/bars and one of the coziest espresso places in the city.
Right now, Skedadel uses Instagram photos as the visual cornerstone of its service, and it also relies on Foursquare’s data — but the founders have plans to ease off of Foursquare and focus on tweaking their algorithm into a more unique format, and they also plan to draw on different platforms for images. Since Facebook is edging into Yelp’s territory with reviews, it may be wise for Skedadel to branch out and reduce dependency on Instagram, since things could get complicated if Facebook decides it wants Instagram to pioneer the image-based discovery market.
Skedadel is a useful app, and if you’re more visual or you just hate reading pissed-off Yelp rants, it could definitely supplant text review-based discovery apps — though, since it relies on images instead of words, it also functions as a complementary platform.
You can download Skedadel for free for iOS, and an Android version is forthcoming.