When Maryam Mohit and Claudine Ryan asked people how they went about finding recommendations for local services, like a good pediatrician, a solid piano teacher, or a trustworthy plumber, most people listed Yelp as their last resort. Considering Yelp attracts 117 million monthly users, that’s pretty surprising. But looking for a decent Indian restaurant in the neighborhood is different than inviting someone into your home to fix the sink or finding the right therapist. It’s more personal, and takes more effort to find the right fit.
People don’t go to Yelp for doctors or lawyers or even hairstylists because of trust issues, says Mohit, who was an early employee at Amazon. Forty four-star reviews from strangers don’t guarantee that you, too, will value what is likely a very personalized and intimate experience.
That’s where GemShare, a mobile-based recommendation app created by Mohit and Ryan, comes in. The app, which officially launches today after a six-month beta testing period with 1,000 San Francisco-area users, connects you up to your friends, and friends of theirs, via Facebook, Gmail, or your phone contacts. Using that network, you ask for “gems,” that is people, places, and services your circle values. You would say to your friends, for example, “I’m looking for a good masseuse,” and the responses, ideally will flow in. The app will also surface any masseuse suggestions your friends have made prior to your specific request. (People can also post gems unprompted: “I love this stylist at this salon for curly hair,” for example.)
The idea is that since you know who gave the advice, you trust it more. (Or, conversely know not to trust it.) For further guidance, the recommendations come in three variations: “gem,” which indicates a wholehearted recommendation; “gem for some,” which suggests a service is great but there’s something you should know about it, like it doesn’t take credit cards, or is only good for bikini waxes and not eyebrows; and “heard good things,” which suggests you’ve never actually used the service, but have, well, heard good things about it.
“We have several members who have said two thumbs up from a friend is worth more than 40-star reviews,” Mohit told Fast Company.
Mohit and Ryan got the idea for an alternative to Yelp and the ugly world of Internet discussion boards on a ski chair lift in Tahoe. “I was complaining about how I’m a runner and I was having issues with my knee and was looking for a physical therapist. I emailed a few friends, I asked people I ran into, I hadn’t come up with anyone,” Ryan, who has worked at various startups including LookSmart, Chow, and Eating Well, explained. “Why is it that in this day and age with technology where it is, where our social networks where they are, it is so hard to find information that is within social reach?”
Of course, there are resources online for people like Ryan who are looking for a specific service. There’s Yelp and many other professional recommendation apps, like Porch, which is specific to home-repair specialists, for example. Facebook has also tried its hand in this idea, with Graph Search. But there’s nothing this personal or this organized, Ryan argues. “You go to discussion boards and there are all sorts of questions going on. There is a lot of noise out there.”
GemShare cuts through the noise. You only have to listen to your network and you can assess their recommendations on a case-by-case basis. Ryan, for example, sought out friends who, like her, had running-related knee injuries, when seeking out a physical therapist. If your friend has an awesome curly haircut, you, curly-haired person, will probably want to listen to her stylist advice.
GemShare also collects and catalogs gems, hoping to create one giant database of awesome people and places just for you, which Mohit and Ryan refer to as a treasure trove or a magical Rolodex. Once you put out a request for physical therapists, for example, you have a handful of personal recommendations to choose from. The site is also set up in a way such that there are no negative reviews. “Who has time for that? It’s really noisy,” said Mohit.
In fact, Ryan and Mohit created the app, in part, because as working moms neither had time to seek out the perfect anything. They both craved something that would make their overwhelming lives easier and the current system felt inefficient and time consuming. Mohit described GemShare as a moment of Zen in her otherwise crazed world. “It takes some of that entropy and it brings it into a place of calm,” she said.