Zomato international operations director Pramod Rao, CTS and Zomato Melbourne community manager Pranav Singh.
As far as I’m aware, there are three kinds of users for restaurant website Urbanspoon.
For many, it is simply somewhere to go for information about places to eat – including details such as phone numbers and opening hours, but also very much including opinions good and bad.
A second group does all of the above but also contributes what are referred to as “diner reviews”.
The third group consists of food bloggers, who stories are listed and linked on the Urbanspoon website in exchange for carrying eatery-specific Urbanspoon dinkii.
For the first named of the above groups, the recent news that the American Urbanspoon had been bought by the Indian company Zomato is probably of only passing interest, and perhaps none at all.
By contrast, for the contributors of Urbanspoon “diner reviews” – and some, such as our friends Nat Stockley and MelbourneMiss are very active indeed – and the food bloggers, the Zomato transaction is very big news.
Like many blogs, CTS derives many visitors from its relationship with Urbanspoon.
That relationship sees bloggers going unpaid for the goodwill and stature they bring to Urbanspoon but the actual work requirements are minimal – simply cutting and pasting a bit of code and making sure the paragraph or sentence that appears with the Urbanspoon link is appropriate.
Should my relationship with Zomato – once Urbanspoon is integrated into it – become any more complex, time-consuming or problematic, I’d seriously have to consider cutting my ties.
It’d be a bugger to lose all those referrals, but the truth is the number who become regular CTS readers is probably quite small – so I’d do it, no problem.
And from all I’ve read, the existing Zomato operation so far has not utilised bloggers anywhere it operates in the world.
Thus for bloggers, the questions surrounding the Zomato buy-out are many.
So I was surprised and delighted even to get an invite from Zomato’s Melbourne community manager Pranav Sigh to meet for coffee and a chat.
(I am just one of quite a few Melbourne food bloggers they are in the process of meeting …)
This in itself is a big change – my technical or procedural issues with Urbanspoon over the years have been minor and dealt with well and quickly, but always via email with Urbanspoon staff in Seattle.
So people on the ground is a whole new ball game, with Pranav – he’s a Kiwi by the way, having been educated in CTS’ home town of Dunedin – being just one of hundreds of staff being hired by Zomato around the world to manage the transition and the ongoing relationships with bloggers and other contributors.
When I meet Pranav, he has with him Zomato international operations director Pramod Rao.
We have a good frank, discussion.
I am eager to make my point main points – that food bloggers and contributors around the world are feeling a distinct level of unease, and that Zomato would be foolish indeed to discard, meddle with or downgrade in any way the contributions these many people make and the goodwill and stature they lend to their employer.
I can only take what they tell me at face value, but for the record I find them both to be smart operators who are fully aware of the issues and eager to reassure me on every question I have – and hence their pro-active approach to getting out meeting the people concerned.
Branding apart, there will be little or no change in terms of Zomato’s relationship with its contributors, including bloggers.
Links with food bloggers are very much seen by Zomato as an asset.
The various leaderboards will continue, although the exact methodology for determining them has yet to finalised.
Zomato’s Melbourne staff count stands at present at nine but will rise to about 30.
Zomato’s aim is to update the details, including menus, of each and every restaurant every three months.
However, contributors will still be able to “Add Restaurant”.
To much greater extent than Urbanspoon, Zomato will be “social”.
Indeed, what Pramod shows me on his phone looks very much like a “Facebook-for-foodies” and actually very exciting.
Urbanspoon generated income – such as it has been – through the likes of Google AdSense.
Zomato, by contrast, will hopefully derive income by taking a hyper-local approach to advertising.
This throws up a whole new set of questions for me …
“What if,” I ask Pramod, “a potential Melbourne advertiser is prepared to spend big bucks with Zomato – but only with proviso that existing negative reviews be removed or altered?”
“That will never happen,” Pramod tells me.