What Works and What Doesn't in Online Wine Applications

Alder Yarrow posted an entry in his Vinography about why the wine tasting sites, such as Cork'd, LogABottle, Winelog.Net, TastyDrop, and OpenBottles, will ultimately fail. To summarize, his reasons boil down to these:

  1. There aren't enough wines in the databases
  2. Users don't know how to write
  3. There is no incentive to visit regularly
  4. There aren't enough wine lovers to reach critical mass

Now, I've given this topic some thought, in part because, for a while, I was planning to write a Webapp to track wine cellar contents and write reviews, myself. But I recently backburnered it, because of the launch of Cork'd. And I think that, ultimately, Cork'd will be a winner, though not necessarily in the way that Alder thinks.

Alder assumes that all of these wine sites are trying to build a critical mass of users and wine reviews to counter the influence of the Park-tator. This is a laudable goal, but I agree likely to fail for all the reasons he mentions. However, I don't think that this is Cork'd's intent. And the reason Alder misses this point is because—to borrow terms from Clay Shirky—he's still thinking in terms of Web School practices. Cork'd, on the other hand, is Situated Software.

What do I mean by that? The intent of Cork'd is not to amass a huge collection of wines or reviews, though that may end up being a significant side-effect. Its intent is to allow users to make recommendations to their friends. Cork'd lets you identify your drinking buddies as your own small community within the larger Cork'd community, and then you can make recommendations to your drinking buddies. The cool thing about this is that you can ignore the crappy reviews from the people you don't know or trust, and just collect recommendations from the people you do know and trust.

So users will visit Cork'd because they want to know the preferences of the people they trust, and will want to share their own recommendations with their buddies. Creating personal relationships is a much more compelling reason to return to the application than the old idea of building status among the entire community. And with their emphasis on sharing with your friends, I don't think that building a large corpus of content was even something that crossed the designers' minds when they created Cork'd. They just wanted to have a way to remember wines that they had recommended to each other, and to let other people do the same.

So, in a sense, I think that Cork'd does address Alder's points, if only by taking a completely different approach to the Online wine app. Because it's not a site that's about reviewing wines, it's about sharing with your friends. And as sites like Flickr and LiveJournal have shown, this is where the action really is.

As a side note, I do think that Vinography's comments about CellarTracker are spot on. It is a potentially powerful resource, but its UI must be the single worst I've ever seen. That was why I was thinking of writing my own Online Wine app, to be able to keep track of my own cellar and to let others do the same, but to make it a more enjoyable experience than one can currently get with CellarTracker. I only wish that I'd thought of so many of the ideas in Cork'd a year ago and made it happen, so that I could get the benefits of Cork'd and track my own wines like I could with CellarTracker. But for now, I'm just sending feature requests to Cork'd and watching to see how things develop.