foona is the newest kid on the block in the online eatery guide business. It’s intended as a social network for food, where you can share your comments, opinions and recipes with like-minded people.
The website is just starting up and is still in the beta phase, which means that it’s an evolving project which will take a life of its own once it sees visits and activity from users. It also means that it is just a skeleton of what it might look like a few months/year from now.
Currently, it seems to be functioning mostly as a searchable directory of restaurants and their menu items. There is a lot that can be done in the social network for food arena, but foona doesn’t be doing much more than using social networking websites as a login portal and allowing comments and reviews on its directory items.
How It Works
The key portal for accessing foona’s directory of restaurants and menu items is the search bar that takes you to restaurants’ pages via keywords. These keywords seem to be either the name of the restaurant, type of cuisine (Italian, Chinese and the likes) or the food item you are looking for. Beyond the simple “Search” button, there are other fancier options which are discussed later on in this post.
If you want to rate and review restaurants or food items, you need to login. This can be done by signing up on the website or logging in via Facebook or Google +. Once you do log in, you can provide ratings on a 1-5 scale or leave detailed comments.
In addition to the reviews and menu list, the pages for each restaurant also provide access to basic info such as address, contact info, open hours, meals served and features available like credit card acceptability, take-away and delivery options.
“Shot in the dark” and the self-fulfilling prophecy
One of the fancy search options is a “Shot in the dark” button alongside the “Search” button. This feature is (exactly) like Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button; it directly opens the top search result for you. In Google’s case, this button makes sense because if I am searching for “Apple”, then it can take you directly to Apple’s webpage (the most relevant) with that button. In Foona’s case, it takes you to the most viewed page among the search results, which doesn’t make much sense.
I would imagine using websites like Foona to discover what’s best/new for a certain food item, but this button takes me to the most popular page, even if it has the worst reviews in that category. There is no element of surprise either because every time I type “burger” and hit the button, it is extremely likely to take me to the same page.
This brings me to the self-fulfilling prophecy bit. Each time someone uses this button, they add a view to the already top ranked page which gives it an edge over the other pages. This makes it slightly unfair and predictable as the top pages in each category will keep cementing their place.
The element of discovering new food is also catered for with the Play foonette button. This button appears in the place of “Shot in the dark” option if your search bar is empty. Clicking on it will take you to a random food item – like chicken wings, pizza, pasta etc. And from there on, you can click (technically) to see venues that offer this product – but that click actually takes you to a list of menu items from different restaurants, listed alphabetically.
It just doesn’t feel right – the flow. If the button does have to take you to a random food item, it should go directly to an item on a menu of a random restaurant, a three-course meal or a chef’s special.
Sharpening the edges
A notable omission from this keyword universe is address – I can’t look up restaurants in DHA or in E-7. That was confusing for a moment because searching for e-7 does give several results, but seemingly all restaurants with e, – or 7 in their name. This is an issue even if you put in a generic word in the search bar along with something specific, like “cuisine” in “Japanese cuisine” – it gives you irrelevant results.
A short note for the search bar, when it’s autocompleting your query, clicking on one of the options should be enough to search for it. What happens now is that the selected auto-completed query just goes and sits in the search bar and you have to click “Search” separately. Minor detail really, but we are spoiled generation of internet users.
There’s definitely a lot of work that needs to be done here if foona wants to move from the idea of a social network for food to actually being one. The idea has great potential and it would be nice to have a one-stop website where all Pakistani foodies converge and all your eating out problems are solved, but foona’s not that place yet.