Online user reviews have completely changed the way we shop and select service providers. I use Yelp religiously for finding hot new restaurants. I scour through online comments when buying clothes, decor, and furniture, to look for tips on fit and assembly. I wouldn't ever consider a handyman without making sure someone has vouched for him first.
But when it comes to things that are a little bit more personal — like finding a new medical specialist or a hair stylist who knows how to work with my hair texture — online reviews left by strangers sometimes feels a bit too anonymous. I don't know Yelp's buffmuscles2005 from Adam, so how can I trust his recommendation for an oral surgeon? For those services, I feel more comfortable asking my friends and family directly, yet even that method can take some time to find what I'm looking for.
New iOS app GemShare wants to fix that. This private reviews network lets you search for and share recommendations for local businesses and services, but only within a community of trusted friends and friends of friends. It's designed to help you find recommendations quickly by accessing your entire personal network at once.
Cofounders Claudine Ryan and Maryam Mohit created GemShare in order to store and save word-of-mouth recommendations. They had frequent conversations with others where someone asked, "Does anyone know of a good [fill in the blank]?" only to lose that recommendation later, or where someone recalled having a different conversation about a local speech pathologist but couldn't remember the name or who said it.
"We realized that there was no service out there that gave access to resources like this within our personal networks," said Ryan during a demo. Ryan and Mohit quietly launched a pilot program in September 2013, where 1,000 people from around the San Francisco Bay Area tested GemShare and gave tips on their favorite local services. Recommendations they log are known as "gems."
"According to feedback from our testers, we've found that GemShare has quickly become the first place that most users are looking," said Mohit.
Building a trusted network
When you join GemShare, the first step is to create your network. You can connect to your Facebook or Google accounts (which only looks at contacts — GemShare doesn't share any of your info), or just use your phone's onboard contacts. The app looks for friends of yours who are already using GemShare; if no one is using it yet, you can invite other friends to join. Then, set your location, and select local interest groups to join. GemShare gives you access to gems that your friends have posted, as well as friends of friends.
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