Zomato logoUpdate: Zomato webpage is no longer locked behind a login page. It has started displaying the search box again. (Hat tip: Pravin). The roll back has been fast! Do note that Zomato’s competitor TimesCity told us that it will never ask people to login to view the listings.

Online restaurant and events guide Zomato has launched a redesigned website and app with social factor as the front and centre. 

Unlike the Zomato of old, you will not be able to search or browse through restaurants in the app without logging in. On the website the homepage will force you to login before you can search for any eateries in your area. If you have bookmarked a link to any restaurant listed on Zomato, you can still open it and then search for restaurants, but even that option might not be available for long.

zomato_social

Once you login, Zomato suggests a list of ‘friends’ to follow. Once a few of them are selected, you’re taken to the timeline which shows all the photos and reviews shared by these new friends. The service then lets you thank people for reviews and like photos shared from restaurants, apart from commenting on these items.

zomato_screenshotThe service has also added a widget that basically displays your ‘foodie’ rank based on points you accumulate for activity in the service and this widget can be embedded on any site. Zomato also has a leaderboard of your friends on Zomato based on these points (I’m ranked 11th in a list of 11 by the way. The only other thing in which I sucked so badly was Street Fighter!).

The new mobile app has a four pane interface comprising Search, Nearby, Feed and Profile. Search tab works like normal search and the only additions seems to be a speed dial option at the bottom. You can tap on the speed dial button on the profile of a venue to and it’ll be listed as a speed dial. The nearby tab shows all restaurants in your area, with a tab to see recommended eateries and any restaurants from your wishlist that are around.

The feed section recommends people you should follow from the city for food recommendations, apart from displaying recent reviews and pics by your friends. On a lighter note, (yes I was serious till now) I was terribly disappointed at the lack of word play or pun on the word feed, it’s like we forget the real meaning of the word while playing this online social game.

Why is Zomato emphasising on social?

In our Outlook14 series earlier, Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal had mentioned that keeping users constantly engaged was a major roadblock the company was facing. “With the addition of the social layers on the website, the level of our user engagement has definitely gone up. Keeping users engaged and maintaining a rock-solid content platform are important aspects that will need to be addressed in 2014.”

Such a deeper social layer is important for Zomato as it is now competing against reviews on Google+ which gets played up on Google Maps when people search for a restaurant. This might not be such a big issue in India, but it will be a problem for the company as it expands to more western markets. It expanded its operations to Brazil and New Zealand, apart from strengthening its presence in UK, in December last year, a month after raising $37 million in funding. At which point, Zomato had also announced its plans to expand its operations to 22 countries.