by Conor Friedersdorf

In a prior post, I argued that Yelp on iPhones, and other crowd sourced consumer guides available anywhere and everywhere, would help tip the competitive balance away from chains toward mom and pop stores. Why choose a chain that reliably provides mediocre food when even better food can be identified with little risk of eating someplace awful?

Cliff Kuang agrees that the phenomenon I describe makes chain restaurants marginally less reliable, but insists that this doesn't make for a dining revolution.

The present mix we see in the market, between big chains and independent stores, is, if nothing else, a reflection of what people actually prefer. For decades, people have been voting with their dollars, and what they've produced is the leisure landscape we have today.

...Mobile Web makes it easier for people to find what they want--but it can't change what people want. Whenever you see people waxing prophetic about the influence of technology, it's almost always because their confusing a tool with what that tool expresses… asking something like Yelp to change the way we eat is like asking a mirror for advice on what to wear.

I think he's right that Yelp isn't going to change people's preferences -- it will merely allow them to better realize preexisting preferences. What I do wonder is how it will shape the preferences of young people who grow up choosing restaurants via iPhone. When they are older will they look to chains or peer networking as signals of guaranteed minimal acceptable quality?

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