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Startup creates Yelp-like site, but for business apps

G2 Crowd makes reviewers use their LinkedIn credentials to ensure fair play

Business software purchasing, particularly at the enterprise level, can be a lengthy and difficult process, something startup G2 Crowd is hoping to alleviate with a new review site aimed at enterprise applications.

G2 Crowd has been in the works for some time, but on Thursday the company announced what amounts to a public beta, as well as the unveiling of some new features. "We think we're ready to go to the broader world," said co-founder Godard Abel, in an interview.

The site includes a rating system called the G2 Grid. 'We really think it's a better version of the Gartner Magic Quadrant," Abel said. That's because all of the data involved is sourced from end-user reviews and social media sites.

User reviews carry 70 percent to 80 percent of the weight in rankings, but social media traffic can provide some significant insights into which companies and trends are getting hot, according to Abel.

While G2 Crowd is aimed at customers from companies of all sizes, the startup wants to tackle the challenges particularly felt by large enterprises, which can spend three months building a short list of potential software vendors and ultimately spend 10 or 12 months making a final selection, he said. G2 Crowd's goal is to at least "collapse that short-list window from three months to three days," Abel said.

Sourcing software can also get expensive, and using G2 Crowd will help customers cut those costs significantly, according to Abel. The crowdsourced review model can also help them more easily discover innovative and new technologies, he added.

The notion of business application reviews isn't new but past attempts have tended to be "very vendor-driven" and too many reviews are done anonymously, opening the door for ratings to be pumped up or pulled down by individuals with an agenda, he said.

G2 Crowd requires users to log in with their LinkedIn credentials, helping to ensure reviewers are who they say they are, and give other users additional context. Users aren't allowed to review products their company sells, nor those of direct competitors.

In addition, G2 Crowd isn't going to sell sales leads or take payments from vendors for product placement, in order to build up a reservoir of trust, Abel said. "Some sites live off selling leads to Gartner."

Many end users' employers may restrict what they can say on social media sites, particularly concerning what type of software their company uses. G2 Crowd gets around that obstacle with the concept of "unattributed" reviews. "We always know who the user is, but if it's unattributed, no other user can see what company they're tied to," Abel said.

Most of the site will be available to the public, but G2 Crowd plans to make money by selling premium research, such as a comparison spreadsheet for a given product category, showing how users rated features of various offerings, demographic data and information on deal metrics, including average discounts and deal sizes.

"There are many different factors that go into a business applications purchase decision, but I think G2 Crowd looks like a helpful addition," said Forrester Research analyst China Martens, via email.

"I think it would be very helpful for each reviewer to list their experience with the product they're reviewing," Martens added. "Reviews of different versions of the same product would also be very helpful - for now, it looks as though there could be confusion over different releases."

The site's goal of vendor independence is another asset, in Martens' view.

"Obviously, compared with G2 Crowd review comparison charts, it's hard for a specific vendor to provide any comparison charts of its partners in any given application without creating issues with those partnerships," she said.

Full-named user profiles have been lacking in reviews sections of business applications stores, she said. "I'm thinking the combination of G2 Crowd with a general-purpose business apps store would be very interesting and powerful."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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