The holiday season is a time for commemorating special events. But it’s also a time for shopping and merry-making among friends and family. If you’re on the lookout for a restaurant or store, you might want to check out reviews and user opinions first, lest you chance upon a store with bad service. Timely and good-quality reviews can help make the decision easier.

TheSmartLocal, a Singapore-based startup, aims to offer better inputs and insights than what most other review sites can give readers. The site does feature reviews on restaurants, hotels, travel destinations and shopping places. But more than just offering reviews, TheSmartLocal wants to focus on quality inputs from users.

We talked with Bryan Choo, co-founder of TheSmartLocal, and he stressed that the site was designed for both Singaporeans and tourists, but with stress on locals — hence the name “smart local.” According to Bryan, many locals would always complain about a lack of places to go in the city-state. But there are a lot of places to visit, if one would only explore.

“Singaporeans always complain that there is nothing to do in Singapore. We hope to play a part in changing that mentality,” Bryan says. “There is actually so much to do, its just that Singaporeans don’t know *what* to do or *where* they are so the site spotlights all these places for them. This also makes the site just as useful to tourists.”

TheSmartLocal launched in August this year, and has recently hit 11,000 reviews. Bryan says the reviews are in blog format, which readers find easier to trust. “So many of our news items that highlight places to visit in Singapore are written in a ‘blog style’ format, as are the reviews submitted which are written like ‘mini-blogs.’ These reviews are then automatically aggregated to determine an overall rating for a place.”

Apart from reviews, there is a stress on the quality of reviews. “Too often, review sites are filled with fake reviews or reviews of just one or two sentences of questionable origin. This will not happen on our site and every review submitted requires a decent write up, that people will be interested to read. This is to provide a quality reading experience for visitors of the site and more accurate ratings,” Bryan says.

In terms of user incentives, TheSmartLocal recognizes top users with “helpful” votes, ranks, badges and “star writer” recognition. The site is also awarding S$200 in prizes to the top five contributors. Points can be earned by doing activities like writing reviews, leaving review comments, posting in the forums and liking posts. The points encourage both cooperation and competition among users, especially with the most active earning the prizes.

TheSmartLocal is currently bootstrapped, although the founders do have plans for future expansion, such as a mobile app targeted at a Q2 2013 release. The iOS platform does get a substantial share of traffic from the portal. TheSmartLocal has also expanded its services to cover Malaysia, and in the team is eyeing other Asia Pacific countries. The service has not partnered with establishments and store owners, although Bryan says the team is contemplating on the “best angle” for such partnerships.

“For now, we want to make our Singapore and Malaysian portals as solid and localised as possible before expanding further,” explains Bryan. To support possible expansion in other regions, Bryan says the site recently started offering filters for Halal, organic, vegetarian and other tags, to make it easier for users from diverse cultures to find good places to stay and eat.

Featured Image Credits: Cochrane Colloquium