Find what's on your doorstep
UNDER THE RADAR: Mike Brennan RateMyArea WE ARE all becoming increasingly used to comparison websites that advise us about which holidays are cheapest, which hotels offer the best value and which cars are the most reliable – they save us time, money and shoe leather.
TripAdvisor was the one which most impressed Mike Brennan – particularly the fact that real-life punters could use it to review hotels they had stayed in themselves, providing independent warts-and-all insights for those who followed.
“It’s a great site, but one thing always struck me about it,” recalls Brennan (30), “and that was the fact that the vast majority of people stayed in hotels for, say, only two or three weeks of the year, at most.”
It was this that gave him the idea of “a TripAdvisor-style site which would be relevant for the other 344 days of the year”.
“I thought of it as the sort of site you’d turn to if you needed advice on the schools in your new neighbourhood, the phone number for a plumber or how to find the nearest wifi hotspot – the type of advice that requires reliable, indepth local knowledge.”
And so RateMyArea.com was born – a website that aims to provide as comprehensive a view as possible of what’s on offer in any particular area – not just restaurants, bars and businesses, but everything from recycling sites to playgrounds to cash points.
“We started with Dublin last year, we’ve already moved into Galway and the aim is to include the other cities during the year,” says Brennan, chief executive of Locate Online Ltd, which runs RateMyArea.
“The idea is to run the site as a social network, where users can add their own locations, places they like or think will be of interest, review what’s already there, and create a sense that it’s all part and parcel of their neighbourhood.”
It is already attracting about 30,000 hits a month – not bad for a site that has been live for less than six months.
“We’re very happy with it,” he says. “We have integrated Google Maps into our pages so that users can find locations. We have a free-call service that connects users to businesses instantly and we can be used on iPhones, which is an important step into mobile services.”
Building the brand and generating income is now what it’s all about. Businesses can add themselves to RateMyArea free of charge. Then for a flat fee of €50 a month they can use a range of other services, such as promoting special offers, giving additional details about the company, and adding parking information and opening hours.
But could the fact that businesses pay to use the “premium” services on the site in any way compromise – or even appear to compromise – the all-important independence of the site’s reviews?
The answer, says Brennan, is no – because of the transparency with which RateMyArea operates.
“It’s all about trust. When a business has paid us for a particular service, that fact is flagged up clearly for users to see.
“When a user searches for a particular service, the businesses are not listed according to who has paid us most; they are listed in terms of proximity and usefulness to the searcher.
“In terms of reviews, we have guidelines in place to ensure that any comments are constructive as far as possible and certainly not defamatory,” Brennan continues.
“Other than that, of course users can criticise and, equally, businesses that are criticised have the right to reply.
“But I believe that, in general, businesses understand that using a website like ours is different to advertising, which is essentially shouting at people.”
This website’s method, he says, is more subtle: “The social- network aspect of it means that this is more like online word- of-mouth. If one customer has a good experience, he or she will spread the word to 100 more.
“I suppose you could say RateMyArea is word-of-mouth amplified.”