Friday, 27 October 2017

Horses for courses

Whenever the Good Beer Guide is discussed, someone inevitably pipes up with a comment that surely WhatPub now makes it largely redundant. This is something I thought of mentioning in my earlier post on unconventional outlets in the GBG, but felt it deserved a post of its own.

For those not familiar with it, WhatPub is CAMRA’s online pub database and guide, which represents a major achievement of volunteer effort. There’s scarcely a real ale pub that isn’t on it, and in most areas it also provides a full listing of all licensed premises open to the public, including those that only serve keg beers*. It’s probably more comprehensive than any other online pub guide. However, for various reasons it doesn’t really compete with or replace the Good Beer Guide, as it’s a completely different animal.

The first comes from its very comprehensiveness. If you look at Chester in the GBG, it lists nine pubs in a variety of styles from micropub through traditional boozer to upmarket eaterie. There should be something to suit every taste. In contrast, enter “Chester” into the WhatPub search box, and you will be presented with no less than 269 results. It’s going to be hard work to search through them to find something that appeals. With the GBG, someone has already done the work for you to produce what I suppose must be called a “curated” selection.

The second is again a feature rather than a bug, in that WhatPub aims to describe pubs honestly rather than criticising them. This is understandable, as it doesn’t want to needlessly antagonise licensees, and in general you do get a reasonable idea of what pubs are like. Reading between the lines, you can distinguish between those given fulsome praise, and those described in terse, neutral terms. But it’s not necessarily easy to sort the wheat from the chaff, and sometimes the WhatPub descriptions can be misleading even if not inaccurate as such. I remember once visiting an externally attractive pub that sounded reasonably appealing, only to find it entirely given over to Sunday diners and stinking of gravy.

If you were in Christchurch, Dorset, the description of the Ship says “Low ceilings, exposed beams and leaded windows combine to produce a pleasant pub. At the rear there is an enclosed garden.” From that, you would get the impression of a very traditional interior, whereas in fact, although nothing is untrue as such, it’s actually thoroughly knocked through and very modernisitic in style. The GBG would have rightly directed you instead to the Thomas Tripp, which is much more pubby.

The way many people use the GBG is not so much to search for pubs in a specific location, but to look for ones that sound interesting across a wider area, or along a particular route, something that its maps make easy to do. WhatPub does offer a facility to show listed pubs on a map, but once you zoom out a bit, the sheer numbers become a bit overwhelming. If you wanted to, say, find worthwhile pubs between Shrewsbury and Hereford, the map search would be of little use.

WhatPub? is obviously still a work in progress, and I’m not proposing to list things that could be improved. Perhaps I’d give priority to making the descriptions more consistent in style, and providing at least some facility for user input without opening it up to free-for-all comments in the manner of Beer in the Evening, maybe by allowing registered CAMRA members to leave star ratings. I’d also like a search facility for National Inventory entries. It’s an extremely useful and worthwhile enterprise. But it complements the GBG rather than replacing it.

* As an aside, in most areas in England and Wales, it lists all keg pubs as well as real ale ones, and I used it last year for my Keg Pub Challenge where I asked people to find a location where none of the first ten search results returned had real ale. But in Scotland it tends not to, possibly because the real ale outlets are so thin on the ground that the task may understandably prove dispiriting.

11 comments:

  1. I have praised before the comprehensive descriptions that the Stockport & South Manchester branch gives to pubs in its area. Whatpub would be greatly improved if other branches gave fuller reports.

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  2. Definitely room for both ...be a sad day if GBG became digital only edition....

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  3. if you want to see what a WhatPub GBG might look like, just download the latest GBG app version, because thats basically what they turned it into, including the must have internet data services access to use it, and frankly its useless.

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    1. The post is basically about selective vs comprehensive guides rather than digital vs paper publications.

      But printed books are proving a lot more resilient than many predicted a decade ago.

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    2. Yep appreciate that,but if you want a glimpse of where CAMRA may take the book,to 'widen it's appeal' where any pub with a garden or any pub with food is given equal highlighting to the GBG listings,then the app is showing you that future now. The only saving grace is a printed equivalent would be impossibly large,but the decision to make the GBG online as much a general pub guide has been taken

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    3. CAMRA may be forced to take the GBG down that route if sales continue to fall (I infer they have stabilised but are lower than they have been in the past) - it will at some point become uneconomical to print. Saying the GBG app is "useless" isn't a very helpful comment either as it clearly is useful to those who are more than happy to consume *the same information* digitally. Yes, an offline version would be useful and I'm sure that will happen at some point. That's one plus for the app - at least it *can* (relatively) easily change whereas the GBG is stuck. If you've ever been involved at the critical end of the GBG, then you'd appreciate how difficult it is to change the book

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  4. Dave and I, but mostly Dave, use the GBG, WhatPub and the Real Heritage Pub Guide to plan our visits. In the end the GBG carries the most weight.

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  5. The Randomness Guide lists all the GBG pubs in London (http://london.randomness.org.uk/wiki.cgi?Category_Good_Beer_Guide) - not a breach of copyright, afaik, as it doesn't reproduce any of the GBG text. Very useful.

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  6. WhatPub is the great CAMRA achievement of the last decade.As someone who navigates towns by maps it's better than GoogleMaps or the paper A-Z.

    I'd quite like to see NBSS scores added, of course, but understand the politics that prevents that.

    Simon, Duncan and myself will always need a paper copy of the GBG we can apply marker pen to.

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    1. Publishing raw NBSS scores would open up a huge can of worms. "Why am I not in the Guide with an average score of 3.23, when Joe down the road is, and he's only got 3.18??"

      Many years ago, we foolishly published actual beer scores for a Stagger in "Opening Times" and got no end of flak from licensees. Better to stick to "a bit below par" or "above average" ;-)

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    2. The reason scoring is not in the app at the moment isn't politics as such - it's simply a lack of funds/resources to implement every feature in the first release. Although politics *could* be the reason why those resources aren't available

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