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November Issue

Vol 28|No 2|November 2017

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Finding your way

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

Thanks to apps like GoogleMaps and sites providing customer reviews like Amazon, TripAdvisor and Yelp, we can all minimize lost time and dissatisfaction. We can find our way literally and figuratively. As with all searching, however, there are risks involved that can be minimized if one has the information equivalent of "street smarts." Schools should make these "smarts" along with information literacy central to the curriculum.

Finding a good store

For our first example, imagine you are visiting a foreign city, staying in an apartment and need to do some grocery shopping. You don't speak the language. Fortunately, GoogleMaps is there to help you. If you enter your address, it will show your location and ask if you want to search "nearby" for hotels, restaurants, bars and whatever you hope to find. A barbershop? A coffee shop? A pet store? A grocery store? A vet?

While visiting Russia and Romania this year, I found this service invaluable, and once I had selected a store or a destination, I could ask for directions by car, by bus or by foot. Since I spoke no Russian, it was so helpful to be given the bus number, the location of the closest stop, the time of the next bus and the cost of the trip and number of stops to reach my store.

This app worked great for me most of the time, but I learned that the information provided was not always accurate or complete.

1. Sometimes the location on GoogleMaps is wrong, as I discovered when searching for a Vodafone shop in Bucharest. The street was correct, but the shop was actually 4 blocks away. I wasted half an hour going to one of their other locations and later in the week discovered the correct address of the first store. I filled out a form at GoogleMap to tell them of the error and learned they corrected it within a day or two.

2. Sometimes we may use a search term that produces few results. Looking for a "supermarket" in Bucharest, I found few results, but when I used "grocery," many more choices appeared on the map. It is best to play around with several search terms and see if that improves ypur success.

3. Sometimes GoogleMaps promotes certain stores or companies over others when you first search. You can test this out in your own town or city by doing a search for restaurants. Often you will find the restaurants shown on the map will multiply as you zoom in. If you are in a new city and want to eat in a particular neighborhood, you will have the widest selection by zooming in quite close to the actual streets you have in mind.

As is true of the other sites mentioned later in this article, GoogleMaps also provides reviews for some of the companies you will find on the map. This feature may prove more valuable for businesses like restaurants than others, and the quality and reliability of the reviews may be higher on some sites than others.

Finding a good moving company
















When I first came to Denver, I needed to find a company to move my possessions from a storage facility in Boulder. In the past I suppose I would have turned to the Yellow Pages or ads in the local newspaper, but this time I started with Craigslist and checked my findings in Yelp.

I have come to value the comments and reviews of customers, although we must read these comments cautiously. Two decades earlier, such reviews were not so readily available, and we had to ask for references or rely upon word of mouth.

Despite efforts to weed out bogus reviews, there is an industry committed to writing them, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Note the CBS News article, "How Yelp is weeding out fake reviews." In addition, some customers are unpleasant and unreasonable, so harsh comments must be balanced against the majority.

This is a skill students will need in order to make sense of customer reviews. Which are trustworthy? Which are loony? Which are fake? The consequences may be more serious when selecting a doctor than a moving company, but Yelp can be very helpful cutting through institutional marketing and hype.

Finding a good doctor

In my own experience, Yelp pointed me to a doctor and a medical practice that was quite extraordinary. Three years later he is highly rated by almost everyone who sees him except for a handful of people who had communications problems with the office, who never became patients and wrote harsh evaluations. Despite this handful, he comes out #1 in Denver on Yelp, probably because his patients get wonderful care that is both skillful and very personal.

Another factor in his favor is an approach to costs that I found very attractive. He charges a monthly fee that covers everything that takes place in his office — blood tests, annual exams, and emergent health issues like skin cancer.

In the past I approached a large medical group and was given a choice of two or three new doctors with little local track record. It was like navigating in fog.

Finding a good book

Amazon uses recommendations in powerful ways, that (according to one source) account for 35% of its sales. They will suggest books you might enjoy based on prior reading choices. When they first introduced this feature, I found many of their suggestions "spot on," but my trust began to wane after some disappointing reads.

Instead of trusting the recommendations, I started paying more attention to customer reviews, and I developed a technique that combined focus on both favorable and unfavorable reviews. In either case, I looked for evidence and examples rather than generalities. Over time I came to see that like-minded readers and thinkers used examples and language with which I could identify. I was looking for literary "affinity."

After reading a dozen thrillers by a wonderful author, should I read his or her latest?

The reviews will help me decide. I especially value the reviews of those who have loved this author in the past, as they will often warn you if the new book is disappointing. But once again, I am looking for evidence.

Finding a good restaurant

Over time we may come to trust one source of restaurant reviews over others. Some may do a better job for casual dining than fine dining and vice versa. Service at especially popular restaurants sometimes may suffer as crowds may overwhelm both staff and kitchen.

In celebrating my birthday in Bucharest, I almost passed over a wonderful restaurant because of negative reviews about the service, but these were offset by many rave reviews, and when my friend and I arrived, the place was booming, jam-packed with happy people. The servers were dashing about frantically taking and delivering orders.

It seemed to me that the restaurant was understaffed, but I learned long ago that the secret to getting good service under such conditions is a combination of smiles and empathy.

"Wow! You guys are really slammed tonight! How do you manage?"

We had a wonderful dinner and excellent service. The next day I wrote a glowing review for Tripadvisor. If one wants to enjoy the most popular spots in town, there are strategies that make the experience go well. Haughty diners are likely to become unhappy diners.

When reading negative reviews it pays to consider the possibility that negative people have more negative experiences in restaurants than positive people.


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