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Find Your Friends' Favorites on Facebook

Kim Hart

Today, two former AOL execs are launching a new application for Facebook that lets you take advantage of your friends' first-hand knowledge of local businesses. The local search engine, called Loladex, helps you find hot new restaurants or reliable mechanics in your neighborhood by tapping into the recommendations of the people in your Facebook network.

"We're trying to model the way word of mouth works in real life," said Laurence Hooper, a co-founder of Loladex, who used to lead AOL's development of local search and travel search products. "If you're looking for a dentist, a plumber, a good restaurant for a first date, your first instinct is to ask a friend."

Hooper left AOL about a year ago to start working on Loladex and later hooked up again with colleague Dan Goodman over LinkedIn. Goodman, who had worked on AOL's YellowPages product, joined Hooper in October. The duo came up with the idea and outsourced the development of the application to Viget Labs, a Falls Church Web design and development firm.

The application has been in semi-private beta testing for a few months now, but is going live today. Hooper and Goodman are focusing most of their promotional energy on the Washington metro area at first to build a following. But it works on a national scale as well.

Here's how Loladex works. If you search for, say, a barber shop in Bethesda, the first results you'll see will be the recommendations from people you already know and trust. Loladex also plans to incorporate recommendations from other trusted sources you've identified, such as Washingtonian Magazine. Right now, the product extends only to people in your various networks, such as Washington D.C. or George Washington University. But the application will eventually also extend to people in the groups you belong to, such as a group for mothers, newlyweds or Arlington singles.

Hooper and Goodman said they think the product will take off most quickly for twenty-somethings who've just started a career and are trying to get established in a new city. Another key demographic will be those who are starting families in unfamiliar suburbs and suddenly find themselves needing services such as lawn care and hardware stores.

Of course, the application doesn't really work unless a lot of people are using it. Hooper said he hopes it will spread as people start to see their friends using it via Facebook's Newsfeed. And if you can't find a recommendation for, say, an accountant a few weeks before the tax deadline, you can post a query. Hopefully that will prompt people to give you a few pointers, he said.

So how is an application like this different than other Web review sites like Yelp? Goodman said Loladex has a greater emphasis on friends. "We think it's a much greater value to have recommendations from a trusted source instead of having to evaluate lots of reviews from people we don't know," he said. (He added that they both admire what Yelp has accomplished).

Unlike other recommendation sites, like Yelp or Angie's List, Loladex doesn't let users post several paragraphs in reviewing a local florist or coffee shop. Users give a thumbs up, or a thumbs down, and have to sum up their opinion in no more than 140 characters.

The founding duo is optimistic that local search ad revenue will get a boost in the next few years as more small businesses try online advertising. Eventually small ads may be placed next to recommendations, although they haven't figured out how it will work just yet. The firm, which has been entirely self-funded so far, is also considering selling some the data they collect over time to businesses interested in knowing what the most popular bars are and which age groups tend to flock to particular movie theaters, for example.

Check it out for yourself at http://apps.facebook.com/loladex/.

By Kim Hart  |  March 26, 2008; 9:58 AM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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hi babz

Posted by: Busi Gumede | March 26, 2008 11:15 AM

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