I have something to admit. I used to be addicted to Untappd. Logging those beers, getting those badges, trying to keep up with the Jonses with what I drunk. Then suddenly I stopped. I thought it was making my drinking more of a chore than of a pleasure. Take a picture. Upload to an app. Write a review. Give it some meaningless rating in terms of stars that didn’t seem to matter to anything. Then they introduced containers and where the beer was consumed.
It all became too much. I was spending too much time faffing around with an app than actually enjoying my beer or talking with friends. It became a running joke that I would be using my phone more than anything else when I was out with my friends. So what was the point of going out with my friends?
It was only during my recent vacation back home that I logged on again and started logging beers that I had drunk throughout the year. There was a lot. So much so that it took me over 2,500 lifetime beers on Untappd. While that’s nowhere near as other people on there, most of the beers I logged soon became lifeless entities with the title “backlog” on there, instead of anything meaningful. How does that help people?
There are some positives to Untappd though the negatives greatly outweigh them. Being able to log the beers you’ve had and come back at a later time sure beats having a notebook in your bag or some spreadsheet. “Have you had this beer?” someone asks you in a bar – you can whip out your phone, check and then answer.
If you’re looking for a beer to come on tap somewhere, then you can set up an alarm or notification on your phone. But being in Japan means that option is seldom used besides the biggest of craft beer bars that have an English speaking worker. You can also follow some bar too in the area, with Watering Hole and Two Dogs Taproom being two of note in the Tokyo area.
However, and this is what I am personally guilty of, instead of making beer social, Untappd has gone a long way to making the beer drinking experience, well, unsocial. People will take pictures, then log in to the app, spend time writing a review, and then sending it, in the hope of getting a new badge or new level up. Rather than talking about a beer with the people in the immediate vicinity, people will wait to check in and see other people’s reviews before posting their own – peer pressure.
It’s often said that craft beer drinkers are in search of the newest craze, foregoing older beer that they have had before, trying to find either a rare beer or a new fad in terms of style. Think about how that plays havoc with your taste buds. People jump from lagers, to IPAs, to stouts, to sours, to fruit beers, without being able to properly taste the beer at times. Reviews become skewed with drinkers missing out on flavours as they decimate their taste buds and rush to get something up on Untappd.
And for brewers? How can they get valuable feedback from drinkers when a review is less than a Tweet (140 chars)? Some beers are delicate and have a wide range of flavours yet drinkers use catch-all words to explain their reviews. “A powerful yet lingering bouquet of tropical hop flavours with bitterness” can become “tropical and bitter” as the writer gets bored. Is that what the brewer intended? Sometimes reviews can be even terser with “good” being the only word in the review. It may be more efficient in getting beers logged by users, but it doesn’t really show the full picture of the beer.
The rating system is also broken with stars, or partial stars, being used to rate a beer. Is a beer that is scored 3.48 better than a beer that is 3.46? Ratings system are designed to rank beers over other beers; however, get someone who has never had a bold, brash beer before to review a beer and they may rate it lower than someone who likes the flavour profile, with IPAs being a great example of this. Moreover, some people might deliberately rate a beer high or low, and none of these ratings, or reviews, are moderated or weighted. If someone leaves a bad review and it doesn’t correlate with a score, which one would you trust?
Moreover, users can state how the beer was served. Rather than drinking full pints, or half-pints, of beers, drinkers may choose to have samples or even sips from a friend’s beer. How does that affect the review? Can someone who has tried a sip of a beer reliably give a rating, or even a review, of a beer they have tried? This is evident at beer festivals where groups of people can go and get tasting sets from breweries, drink a sip, then suddenly log 20+ beers in the space of 10 minutes.
Rather than letting Untappd dictate your drinking, how about letting your drinking dictate how you use Untappd.