At the time, CAMRA’s own WhatPub? site was still in beta and available to members only, but this week it has finally gone live for the general public. First impressions are pretty good – the search facility is easy to use, it directs you to pubs near the one you have selected, and it gives a reasonable write-up for the Black Swan at Hollins Green which was the pub I used as an example for my initial investigation. There are also decent write-ups for the Crown at Churchill and the Dolphin in Plymouth which I have recently featured on Campaign for Real Pubs.
However, the entry for the Black Swan shows up an obvious problem – patchiness of coverage – as four of the five nearby pubs highlighted don’t have a picture, and if you change the selection criteria to include pubs not serving real ale two are also doubled up with slightly different names. Some areas, including my own, are very good (try browsing the coverage for Stockport) but others are rather lacking. This is obviously something that can be rectified given time, but it doesn’t give a very good initial impression.
The site also by default only searches pubs that offer real ale, and even if you change the search criteria it doesn’t given much information about keg pubs. In a sense this is what you would expect from something produced by CAMRA, but on the other hand it does limit its wider appeal and it has to be recognised that some people may be searching for pubs offering, say, food, or Sky Sports and have no interest in real ale. It thus can’t claim to be a comprehensive guide to all pubs.
The entries also tend to be somewhat anodyne and, while to some extent you can read between the lines and maybe conclude that, if it doesn’t say much about a pub, there isn’t much to be said, it does make it difficult to distinguish between the outstanding and the ordinary. While not suggesting it adopts the totally unmoderated but often entertaining user-generated comments of Beer in the Evening, it would benefit from some facility for used-added content, maybe allowing trusted users to add comments, or even just letting people give ratings out of 10.