Mar 12, 2012

Contextual Search, Local Influence and Achievements on mqVibe

Late last year, our MapQuest Labs team launched mqVibe, which positioned the neighborhood as the foundational context for local discovery on a national level.  By converting MapQuest’s 15 years of data including where people are, what they are looking for, and where they are going, we created a baseline for a ranking system, which would get further refined in real-time as users voted and interacted with the system.

Given the scale of MapQuest, we were able to provide profiles of more than 50,000 neighborhoods, 27,000 cities, and 50,000 hotspots, essentially covering the entire U.S.  Each neighborhood page showcases local restaurants, stores and businesses in ranked order by the most popular, which saves you from having to comb through thousands of not-helpful reviews to find the best.

Over the weekend, we added a new batch of functionality to mqVibe making it more useful for giving you the local expert opinion of where to go and what to do.

As you may have seen, mqVibe is at SXSW showcasing all of these great new functionalities.  If you are, too, download the mqVibe iPhone app to find the details on our flash mobs, street-corner giveaways and other cool stuff we’re doing in Austin!

New Contextual Search
Today, when you search on most sites, the most you can do is look for a business name (“Rio Grande”) or category like (“Mexican food”).  But sometimes you want to be more specific, like when you’d ask a friend, “Where’s a good place to get margaritas that has a patio?”

mqVibe now supports this.  So you can search for terms like “rooftop patio,” “kid friendly,” “enchiladas,” “soup dumplings,” and even “live music” to find a place to eat.  We’re just starting to roll this out, so for now we just support using Contextual Search for restaurants in major cities in New York, California, Texas and Colorado.

Local Influence and Expertise
Initially VibeRank balanced out the aggregate behavior of the crowd with the discreet engagement of Vibe users.  We now tweak the algorithm so that the more active the user is, the more he influences the system.  After all, the more active you are in a community, the more expertise you have.

In addition to factoring in community engagement, we also look for the social mavens.  These are the people who, not only know where all the best places are, but are actively sought out for their expertise.  After we  identify them, these folks get the weight of their vote boosted behind the scenes and we also boost the vote weight of anyone who shares his opinions via Facebook, Twitter or FourSquare.

You can see your influence broken down by neighborhood and category in the leader boards in the “What’s Happening” section of mqVibe.

“What’s Happening”
We added a “What’s Happening” tab on the mqVibe website (or in slide-out menu in the mobile app).  This tab gives you a quick glance at what’s happening in neighborhoods you care about, see what your friends are up to, the rise and fall of local businesses, badges you’ve won, and your local influence and rank.

Until today, there wasn’t much of a reward for exploring, voting and commenting.  With the latest version of mqVibe, you’ll not only get increasing influence – which fosters friendly competition between friends — you now also win badges for your achievements.  These include a Pioneer badge for being one of the first to vote in an area, loyalty badges for frequent visits to local businesses, and VIP badges for having the most social influence in a local business.

New badges will be coming online all the time, and range from achievement-style awards, such as a specialist badge for being the first to comment on 10 pizza restaurants in a city, to personality-style badges that help to begin to express your personality based on where you go and what you do.

At times people are scared to vote down a business in Vibe, because traditionally reviews are permanent and have a lasting effect.  mqVibe’s system is different: A vote is simply a point in an ongoing game.  You’ll get to vote again and the influence of your vote diminishes over time.

So if you have a bad experience somewhere, you should vote them down, knowing that they will have a chance to make it up to you.

Still, there are times where you’re just not sure how to vote or you don’t have any comment to add.  For those times, we added a new neutral “check in” action.  And if you’re a FourSquare user, you can register your account so that we’ll automatically check you in when you vote or check-in on mqVibe.

These new features set the stage for the next wave of functionality for mqVibe.  Please try them out and let us know what you think.