Lunch.com has just launched into private beta here at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. The site, essentially a recommendation network, aims to bring the sort of casual conversations you would have with friends over lunch to the online arena. Using a proprietary "Similarity Network Engine," Lunch calculates what you have in common with other site members so you can share recommendations with those who have your same interests and perspectives.A new online community site called
Click through for an exclusive invite code to this new site!
In a way, Lunch is somewhat like a "Yelp 2.0." But unlike Yelp and other sites like it, Lunch's network aims to make user-generated reviews more of a personalized experience. By discovering your passions and interests, Lunch lets you connect with people who are more like you - and therefore, people who will be recommending and reviewing products and services in a way that you can trust (at least in theory). This idea has merit because it provides a personalized, filtered view of these online reviews.
Why We Need This
Sites like Yelp, Amazon, the iTunes store, and others have been coming under fire for not having trustworthy reviews. Thanks to anonymous user IDs on some sites, reviewers can be anyone with any agenda. Often they are. On Lunch, however, those drive-by reviews contributed by someone associated with the company or product being reviewed (or with an axe to grind) will not be prominently featured. The reason? Lunch.com's Similarity Network.
The Similarity Network
The Similarity Network is probably the most important feature of this new community - without it, Lunch would just be just another Yelp. After signing up, you kick start the matching engine by playing "ExhilaRATE." Although that name is somewhat unintuitive, clicking the link takes you to a section of the site where you can - guess what? - rate things like movies, books, food, sports, politics, animals...whatever. The experience of rating items here is a lot like that of Amazon's recommendation engine. If you've ever killed a few minutes on Amazon training it to get to know you better, you'll find Lunch.com's engine fairly similar.
The difference is that Lunch.com's engine groups things to rate into categories with titles that sound a lot like Facebook Apps (Top Movies of 2009, What's your Favorite Wine?). The Facebook flavor to these "games" makes sense because in the future, Lunch.com will launch a Facebook connected-experience, perhaps even a standalone app. In the meantime, however, you must go to the site to rate items.
The more you rate on Lunch, the better your matches become. You can see your matches and the percentage of compatibility between you and those like you. There are also tag cloud displays that show what items you both like and which ones you don't.
With Lunch, You Can Rate Anything
If you're still wondering why you would migrate away from more mainstream sites to something like Lunch.com, there's another reason this particular community holds appeal: it allows you to make anything ratable. Again unlike Yelp, ratings don't have to focus on products, services, places, etc. They could also be opinion pieces - like what you thought of Michelle Obama's new outfit for example. That opens the door for a much wider range of recommendations and - since you're matched with those like you - those recommendations will be relevant to your interests.
Lunch.com is in private beta, but you can try it now with the invite code "ReadWriteWeb." To use it, just click the link on the right-hand side of the screen that says "Have an invite code?"