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3/31/2009
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Web 2.0: Lunch.com Mixes Social Network, Facts, Opinions

The startup matches like-minded people in its review community to zero in on what's most interesting and helpful.

A startup debuting this week is challenging the way people use social networks to review, buy, and use products.

Lunch.com, which came out of beta on Tuesday, calculates commonalities in taste and opinions among the site's members and makes it accessible as a searchable reference tool. The site hosts common social networking techniques such as groups and profiles. It also contains an editable Wikipedia-like reference tool full of facts about products and services.

By contributing reviews, ratings, and facts, people constantly improve the quality and relevance of information they receive from other Lunch members, the company said.

"People don't need 5,000 reviews of the iPhone. They only need one review from a person who shares their perspective, and that is what Lunch provides," CEO J.R. Johnson said. "We're reducing information overload while building on shared experience. Millions of people know a little something about a little something -- the trick is to find the information most relevant to you."

Different than a Yelp or Facebook, the company is hoping to encourage people to contribute and build its knowledge based with the payoff being more relevance and less about marketing buzz, Johnson said.

"We look at content differently," he said. "Yelp is focused on restaurants and local businesses. We're much broader in our subject matter and are focused on developing our user's voice."

The site's integrity also is augmented by requiring subscription to the network, so there are no anonymous postings. "It's not just about content being king ... it's about context," Johnson said.

Johnson has some expertise in social networking and collective review sites. Prior to Lunch, he was CEO at VirtualTourist.com. The travel site that launched in 1999 gained notoriety as a helpful resource among globe trekkers. Expedia eventually acquired the site.

Unlike other social networking sites, Lunch remains personally funded without VC rounds, Johnson said. The site's foundation is its proprietary Similarity Network engine and does not rely on Open Social standards found in Facebook and elsewhere.

The company also decided to debut during the Web 2.0 Expo show without a booth or a speaking slot. Instead, Johnson is inviting new subscribers through media outlets like InformationWeek with the proper promotional code (TechWeb) and a valid e-mail address.


Learn more about Web 2.0 at TechWeb's Web 2.0 Expo, co-produced by O'Reilly Media, March 31-April 3. Join us (registration required).

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