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Yelp meets Google PageRank, has baby: Grayboxx

Grayboxx does local search and recommendations without the people. Find out how.

Grayboxx is a local recommendations service that's been quietly humming along since 2005. This morning they added 100 cities to the network, bringing the grand total up to 175. Grayboxx takes aggregate customer reviews from all over, and combines them by neighborhood to serve up business recommendations, kind of like what Google has done with its search results. Grayboxx will scour the internet for references to a business (be it tagged photos, or mentions in a blog post), and give that business a certain rank based on its pervasion. However unlike Yelp and Yahoo Local, which are designed and organized to feed off user reviews, Grayboxx's algorithm is completely automatic.

What makes the service particularly interesting is that it's largely unavailable in major U.S. cities right now. For instance, New York, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle won't be getting the Grayboxx treatment until December, while many smaller towns are fully listed. Grayboxx's CEO has previously mentioned that the reason for this was to avoid head-to-head competition with other services like Yelp, while building up their technologies in smaller markets.

So what kind of stuff do you find doing a search on Grayboxx? For the most part, results are similar to what you'd see on other local search sites. There are addresses, hours of operation, phone numbers and any related Web sites. You also get neighborhood recommendations on the side of every listing, which will tell you if the service has a buzz. What was sharply missing in my testing though, were user reviews of any sort. Grayboxx claims to pull in reviews from third-party sites (like the Yelps and Yahoo Locals of the world), although I couldn't find a single one in my two test cities. While there's space for them on each listing, you can't add your own two cents about the service directly.

I find more often than not that user reviews can be the most helpful part of a business listing when it comes to looking for a recommendation. While services like Yelp and Yahoo Local offer mostly subjective reviews--and widely about food, it's the little things like which food dishes are the best, or important information like times to avoid a place when it's too busy or too quiet. While I don't doubt the interesting new direction Grayboxx is moving towards, I think the user-generated quotient is critical and will remain king.

Don't let the Digg-like counters fool you, those numbers are automatically generated by Grayboxx, the local listing recommendation service. CNET Networks