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BUSINESS INSIDER

How Facebook Could Make Foodie Billions By Plugging Instagram Into Graph Search

As Instagram users snap and tag their lastest best meal, Yelp, OpenTable and even FourSquare could be victims of Zuckerberg's appetite.

How Facebook Could Make Foodie Billions By Plugging Instagram Into Graph Search
Owen Thomas

Instagram snaps of the delicious meal you're about to eat are such a cliché, they played a starring role in CollegeHumor's hilarious takedown of the Facebook-owned photo-sharing site.

But for restaurateurs, these pics are no joke: People are taking a massive number of photos of food, and Instagram's Photo Map feature instantly shows what's being served at a restaurant. That was the rationale behind OpenTable's $10 million acquisition of Foodspotting this week.

New numbers reported by MomentFeed, a startup that helps brands manage location pages on services like Facebook and Foursquare, show what a huge phenomenon this is.

It's not limited to fancy, upscale restaurants in San Francisco and New York; people are taking huge numbers of photos in chain restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory and PF Chang's.

In an 18-day period studied at the end of 2012, users posted 4,899 photos tagged with a Cheesecake Factory location on Instagram. (MomentFeed only analyzed place-tagged photos, not comments or hashtags.)

Those numbers destroy what's happening on Foodspotting, a service dedicated to this particular art form. Instagram had 40 times the number of photos taken at Chevy's locations versus Foodspotting. At Texas Roadhouse, the ratio was 22 times. And those numbers are typical for most chain restaurants.

Yelp has long offered the ability to upload photos alongside reviews. But a spotcheck of the Cheesecake Factory location in downtown San Francisco, a Yelp stronghold, shows 564 photos posted over the past six years. The pace of posting has picked up recently, boosted by Yelp's mobile app. Our rough estimate shows Instagram users posting two to three times more frequently at Cheesecake Factory locations.

"It's obvious Instagram is the real Foodspotting," MomentFeed CEO Rob Reed told Business Insider. "That's why Foodspotting stalled and were acquired. Vertically focused apps don't make it."

We don't think OpenTable bought Foodspotting for its photo database, of course—it's more about bringing mobile and social talent into the company and setting them loose on OpenTable's larger user base. But even then, Instagram has such a huge head start on food photos, we're not sure how OpenTable will ever catch up.

What's the implication for Facebook? Huge, if it can tie the photos together with Graph Search and location pages.

While Graph Search is currently limited, one thing it can do right now is show all the photos taken at a particular location.

Foodspotting and Yelp both excel at offering detailed information about restaurants. On Foodspotting, users tag photos with specific dishes, while on Yelp, they can write free-form reviews whose text can be mined for insights and relevancy.

But most people are visual, and photos mean more to them. At San Francisco's Cheesecake Factory, there are more than 1,000 photos already—and Instagram promises to funnel far more into the maw of Facebook's voracious data machine.

Facebook can also show friends who have been there. Those links, together with photos, constitute a far more visceral kind of recommendation than OpenTable or Yelp, with their much smaller user bases, can currently offer.

So the combination of photos and friends—Facebook's basic formula—could prompt more local advertisers to take Facebook seriously as an advertising vehicle, if they aren't doing so already.

The only real threat to Facebook comes from Foursquare. At the Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco, Foursquare has 890 user photos. And Instagram currently relies on Foursquare to tie location data to specific businesses; users can simultaneously post Instagram photos to Facebook and Foursquare.

Then again, Facebook could well switch Instagram from Foursquare's places database to its own. And as local-business search gets more and more important, it's hard to imagine Facebook isn't thinking about that.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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