Zomato, the online restaurant and nightlife guide, which entered the Middle East, last month with its UAE launch, has now expanded its services to Sri Lanka. After Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, Colombo (zomato.com/colombois Zomato’s fourth International city taking its presence to 17 cities across 3 countries – India, UAE and Sri Lanka.

Zomato will offer information including, scanned menus, photos and coordinates, on around 600 restaurants across Colombo. According to Zomato, the Colombo launch is in line with Zomato’s plans to further increase its reach in the Middle East and South East Asia by the end of 2012. A three people team will take care of the Colombo operations. Interestingly, barring travel sites like Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet, there are no dedicated online restaurant guides in Sri Lanka.

On how Zomato selects potential markets: Deepinder Goyal, Founder and CEO Zomato said, “Along with some macro level indicators, we do on-ground research across several metrics (data collection, merchant partnerships, user engagement etc) before entering a new market. He added that Colombo had fit in into the expansion plans as it required limited product customisation for the local market allowing it to replicate its model seamlessly.

Pulled out of Singapore: Zomato decided to pull out of Singapore, even though it had collected a lot of data, as restaurants were not willing to share menus, and it was taking a lot of time to collect data compared to other markets, he stated. He also added that consumer behaviour research indicated that Singaporeans were less likely to use restaurant guides.

Middle East Operations: Zomato already offers information on 6,500 restaurants across the three cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. It has an office in Dubai with a team of 14 people, and according to Goyal, the sales team has already started working, and the operations are generating revenue. Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are also operated through the Dubai office. He also informed that Zomato was getting about 150,000 hits in a month, in Dubai, excluding mobile web traffic. Zomato’s BlackBerry app registers 800-1,000 downloads in day, and BlackBerry is the dominant mobile platform in the region, as per the company.

He mentioned that Zomato has customised its products according to the market. For example, the Dubai version has a ‘Sheesha’ filter, whereas the Sharjah version does not have a ‘Bar’ filter. Zomato is launching operations in Doha, Qatar, next month.

On integrating with services like SIRI and Google Now: Although, Zomato offers its own API, it essentially wants people to use its own platform for content consumption. So the company is not too keen on services that want to pull all information and create alternative distribution channels.

In India, Zomato lists 42,000 restaurants and claims to generate a traffic consisting of 20 million users per month, with 6 million coming from mobile. According to Goyal Zomato is profitable, with advertising being the main source of revenue. Zomato is also testing sponsored listings on its iOS app. InfoEdge had earlier invested Rs 182 million/ Rs 18.2 crore in Zomato, and has a 33.04% equity stake in the company.

Zomato.xxx: Meanwhile, in what comes across as a quirky move, Zomato, has launched a new site dedicated to food porn, Zomato.xxx, on the xxx top level domain, which is otherwise reserved for pornographic content. The site essentially uses the Instagram API, to fetch food pictures tagged with the hash-tag #zomato from the picture sharing social network. The site is essentially a page with infinite scrolling, featuring all these food pictures.

Goyal informs that as with other user generated content, Zomato moderates content before it appears on the site. One can simply click on an image to get it’s direct link and share it via Facebook and Twitter. The other image submissions by the same user are also displayed along with it. We feel that this is an interesting way of building user engagement.