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Great for reviewers, not so great for businesses

  • Mar 23, 2010
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I joined Yelp ages ago, and to its credit it has many positive effects. Being able to find the only trustworthy locksmith in your area is one of them, and getting the skinny on unknown great places is clearly also one of the great benefits of the social web.

From the point of view of being able to provide candid feedback and advice, any review system (such as Amazon or Lunch) helps enormously, but there are some huge problems that have developed specifically within Yelp over the years that mean it will probably never be as beneficial as Amazon or Lunch.

Acknowledging that I still use it to find places all the time, this is James' Official Litany of Yelp Problems:


Ultimately, all these sites are basically a bunch of code sat on servers, and the differentiating factor is the group of people who contribute. Although Yelp has a decent core of reasonable individuals, there's a small, loud minority who are a total pain in the ass. This makes its talk section practically unusable (try asking for hotel recommendations and watch how fast you get flamed), and gives the attitude on the site a snarky feel. The sense of self-importance among contributors doesn't help social sites, and I'm glad to see it hasn't crept into Lunch.


While there'll always be trolls and a need for content moderation, the policy has to be completely transparent to work. Yelp's increasingly-common yanking of reviews and deletion of accounts for reasons only known to themselves would make Google China blush (oh wait, that's not topical anymore). Either users provide candid opinions that stay or they don't, but the in-between policing doesn't suit social web.


I'm a big believer that users on these sites should be treated equally, regardless of their prolific writing or presence. The Elite badge separates users into two classes which is, in my opinion, contrary to the idea of free user-generated content. And no, I've never sought Elite status. :-)

Conflict of Interest

Yelp disingenuously courts advertising from the very businesses being critiqued by its users. The media is rife with stories about business owners being practically blackmailed by Yelpers, or their staff offering to remove negative reviews for an advertising deal - this awkward position serves neither the businesses or their customers. I think potentially this is their biggest problem.


For those of you who don't know, I work professionally with social media, SEM, SEO and all those acronyms, and several customers have had advertising contracts with Yelp that simply have no ROI. The plans start at $300 a month, which would yield you hundreds of fans on Facebook, hundreds of clicks on Google AdWords and - apparently - very little on Yelp. It's around 10 times too expensive for an online advertising channel. Although there are success stories, the average restaurant or dry cleaner would be better invested elsewhere.

I bet somebody at Yelp is wishing the $500mm Google deal had happened since there are numerous "me too" sites that have emerged using a fraction of the technology platform and startup capital. Although it's not going away anytime soon, my feeling is that Yelp has to substantially improve its community and business relationships, or have a very tough time serving the needs of its audience.

Having said that, of course, its benefits are still unrivaled by any other site - but things tend to change very fast on the social web. 

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April 15, 2010
Never used this site although I've heard of it. Many of the social media sites is simply limited to U.S. users. That's one thing I don't like them that much although was one that managed to cross the regional boundaries with lots of participation from other countries. Well, I guess it does have something to do with traveling after all. Facebook may be another but I'm no fan of facebook so I can't really say much about it.
April 11, 2010
very very nice in-depth review of YELP. So they have an 'elite' status like Epinions have the 'hat'? that's not really nice. I've suggested several times that maybe this site can get rid of the rankings but I guess they're necessary to keep some people motivated. You are right, the idea of doing self-importance hasn't gotten to this site...yet. Hopefully it won't.
March 24, 2010
Wow, I totally forgot that their talk threads were made for thoughtful conversation and suggestions.  I only observe them for the lulz once in a while now.  For as much drama as I've witnessed though, I've never been a part of any of it, so Yelp and I are cool (except for the one time they yanked one of my negative reviews for a really bad reason).  I think you've given them a fair assessment.  I'm curious as to what the future holds for them because as you said, things tend to change very fast on the social web.
March 24, 2010
It should be called "the social zoo"... but seriously, I predict the biggest barrier in UGC is getting in the face of participants for no reason. Facebook has done this several times for relatively minor things and got slammed. I don't dislike Yelp but I think they have some major issues they don't appear to address at all. When Google Maps becomes defacto on mobile, they're screwed - and it probably will, purely for the free turn-by-turn. My two cents. :-)
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James Beswick ()'s "token Brit".
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About this website is an online directory website that allows users to review listings and to interact with one another in a Web 2.0-based setting setting.

Wiki, one of the top 100 websites as of 2008, is a Web 2.0 company that allows users to review directory listings (restaurants, businesses, parks, etc) and to interact with one another in a style similar to Facebook and MySpace.

Launched in 2004 in San Francisco, has approximately 10.6 visitors per month. In early 2008, the company expanded with a new office in Manhattan, NY and by listing directory information in Canada, allowing users to review and discuss locations in that country. Profitability is expected in 2009.
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