Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


There are 17 lawyers within 1.2 miles of you
February 26, 2010 1:07 AM   Subscribe

Yelp facing class-action lawsuit over extortive ad sales. "The victims tend to be small businesses, such as our client, who often have no choice but to pay Yelp exorbitant sums in order to prevent further harm to their livelihoods." First reported a year ago in the East Bay Express, "Several business owners likened Yelp to the Mafia, and one said she feared its retaliation."
posted by Afroblanco (64 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lately I've been seeing a lot of responses from restaurant owners on yelp to reviewers who made negative comments. The owners often offer them a complimentary trip to give them a second try. People are already probably gaming this pretty heavily.
posted by curiousgridlock at 1:19 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, shit, but if Yelp gets shut down where on the internet will we go for semi-literate rants about perceived bad service?!
posted by barnacles at 1:26 AM on February 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


But snark aside, I'm honestly not too surprised at this. Yelp was ripe for abuse. Yelp was rife with abuse. In theory, if enough people were posting honest reviews the wheat and chaff would separate and lo! the good reviews would light a path, but it never seemed to happen like that. And since Yelp is so prevalent in the Bay Area, it was always a frustration to read reviews of places and be thinking "But this is patently wrong! Yall lying or stupid!" No good conclusion. A service like Yelp seems useful, but Yelp went about being Yelp all wrong, I think.
posted by barnacles at 1:34 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yelp allegedly refused to remove the comment unless the hospital agreed to pay $300 a month.

All they got from Yelp was protection from other guys looking to rip them off. That's what it's all about. That's what the FBI can never understand - that what Yelp and the organization offer is protection for the kinds of guys who can't go to the cops. They're like the police department for wiseguys.
posted by three blind mice at 1:55 AM on February 26, 2010 [16 favorites]


barnacles: “Oh, shit, but if Yelp gets shut down where on the internet will we go for semi-literate rants about perceived bad service?!”

Everywhere else.
posted by koeselitz at 2:23 AM on February 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah, first it was CitySearch, then Yelp.
The restaurant business has become rather complicated, from a publicity standpoint, in the last ten years or so with the advent of your Yelps and Urbanspoons and the eleventytrillion food blogs.

I love the idea of a site with user submitted reviews by intelligent, thoughtful consumers who can articulately sum up their experiences. Then I wake up.

All I can say is I (and all other experienced chefs I know) basically don't care about sites like Yelp. The people who love your place will still love it, even if they read Yelp, the people who didn't like it still won't and the people who are undecided and swayed by the type of stuff you read on there . . . well, you probably don't want them in your dining room anyway. Besides, if you've had a bad experience with my business, the least you could do is tell me to my face.
posted by kaiseki at 2:45 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait! They let just any idiot post in review sites and online forums????!!!!!

This explains a lot, a whole lot!
posted by HuronBob at 2:51 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, shit, but if Yelp gets shut down where on the internet will we go for semi-literate rants about perceived bad service?!

Metatalk?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:02 AM on February 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


If the allegations are true, that's really disappointing. I like Yelp, and find their Bay Area restaurant recommendations pretty spot on. Sure, people whine about poor service all the time, but I take those with a grain of salt and focus on the food reviews. I like to triangulate reocmmendations from restaurant critics, friends and my fellow plebs on websites like Yelp before trying a new place, and I've never been disappointed so far. I rather wish Yelp would go international.
posted by peripathetic at 3:26 AM on February 26, 2010


I worked at my neighborhood deli for a few months last year and I remember Yelp calling several times a week asking the deli for money to keep bad reviews off the site. They kinda suck.
posted by brando_calrissian at 3:30 AM on February 26, 2010


This has been brewing for a while now -- as in, I remember hearing this precise accusation at least twice over the last year. This is absolutely not an isolated incident, out of nowhere.
posted by effugas at 3:32 AM on February 26, 2010


This certainly doesn't paint a pretty picture of Yelp, but how is it actually illegal? They're offering a service to restaurants that manages the reviews of their business, and that makes me less likely to find Yelp trust-worthy. However, it's not extortion. They're not generating the bad reviews, merely not suppressing them.

If you don't want to pay Yelp, the alternative seems to be to provide good service so that people review your place better.
posted by explosion at 3:38 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


explosion, I've seen this being talked about before, and like with one of the articles linked here, in some cases it is a Yelp-hired reviewer who writes the bad review. So yes, they're generating them as well, but not too much, just enough to keep the site still passable as legit.
posted by qvantamon at 3:46 AM on February 26, 2010


So many of the reviews I see on Yelp are so clearly disconnected from reality that I don't pay them much attention anyway. I mostly use it to look up hours, menus, and directions.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:47 AM on February 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


explosion - if I stand outside your place of business with a sign saying 'this place sucks' thats ok; but when I also come inside every couple of days and invite you to pay me monthly to stop, that's extortion.
posted by yesster at 4:42 AM on February 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


It sounds like they're not just "not suppressing" bad reviews, but actually deleting good reviews and moving bad reviews to the top for people who don't advertise. That's the accusation, anyway.
posted by cider at 4:47 AM on February 26, 2010


I've never paid all that much attention to Yelp (I tend to go to Chowhound for restaurant suggestions), but this ensures that I'll never look at them again. I'm deleting the Yelp app from my phone right now.

Besides being despicable, Yelp's strategy seems pretty short-sighted: they've completely destroyed any shred of validity their reviews may have had. If I see a business that's reviewed well on Yelp, is it because they're actually good, or because they paid the protection money?

Yelp clearly has a problem with bogus negative reviews on its site, but shaking down businesses for money in order to remove them isn't the right way to fix it.
posted by sriracha at 5:02 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


People read the reviews on Yelp? That's like the dining equivalent of reading Youtube comments: people who have no idea what they're talking about hold forth on something unrelated to the intended subject of discussion, with a side dish of barely-literate ranting. Yelp's reviews have had zero credibility for a long, long time, and I'm surprised anyone still paid attention to them.

They are so all over the map, so wildly divergent from reality, that reading what Yelp reviewers have to say actually winds up making you know less about the subject of review than you did before you started.
posted by majick at 5:11 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if this was the real reson Google didn't acquire 'em?

...and if they had?
posted by MeatLightning at 5:29 AM on February 26, 2010


People are already probably gaming this pretty heavily.


uuugh, friend of mine manages a tea house and had to spend hours upon hours dealing with a bitter ex-employee who kept posting insane, incoherent rants on Yelp. Nothing on Yelp seems to bear any relation to reality anyway, but I'm a little surprised with how extensive the corruption appears. Yikes.
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 AM on February 26, 2010


So many of the reviews I see on Yelp are so clearly disconnected from reality that I don't pay them much attention anyway. I mostly use it to look up hours, menus, and directions.

Really? I've been steered wrong a few times by negative reviews, but I've only gotten false negatives, not false positives. That is, if a business has a 4 1/2 star or better average and more than 15 reviews, it is always good. (The 15+ review rule keeps a single nutcase who gave them 1 star because they put his soup spoon put on the wrong side of his plate from skewing the average too far) This rule has very seriously never failed me.

I don't know if they're still doing it now that they're as popular as they are, but for a while there, they were also big on fostering community, which meant they held periodic meetups where they'd pay for your first drink or two. Those were great fun, and once you've actually met the people writing reviews, you get a sense of who was writing accurate reviews and who was slightly unhinged.

I'd be really sad if these accusations turn out to be true, because Yelp was the one online-review place that I trusted not to pull this kind of shenaniganry. For a while there, they were actively pursuing drive-by 1-star and 5-star ratings, and you could see that moderators were doing a good job rooting out the reviews obviously written by business owners or their competitors, and for them to swing 180 degrees would be troubling indeed.
posted by Mayor West at 6:33 AM on February 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


reading what Yelp reviewers have to say actually winds up making you know less about the subject of review than you did before you started

Agreed. I learned this the other week when I was hesitant about going to a ramen place because of the bad reviews on Yelp, but it ended up being perfectly delicious. Now I feel ashamed that I lent them any kind of credence. I will also be deleting the app from my phone.

What I hate most about Yelp reviews is when people address the restaurants in the second person and think they're being clever. And those are usually the reviews that have the most votes for being 'funny' or 'cool.' I actually wrote Yelp an email requesting a way to label reviews as being 'unfunny' and 'uncool.' I never heard back.
posted by ekroh at 6:34 AM on February 26, 2010


On failing to read all the comments here:

People read the reviews on Yelp? That's like the dining equivalent of reading Youtube comments: people who have no idea what they're talking about hold forth on something unrelated to the intended subject of discussion, with a side dish of barely-literate ranting. Yelp's reviews have had zero credibility for a long, long time, and I'm surprised anyone still paid attention to them.

I feel kind of like I'm in an alternate universe here. What metro area are y'all in? Because my experience with reviews from metro Boston have consisted of reading a lot of well-reasoned, reasonably-voiced reviews, sprinkled with a little bit of Youtube-level bloviating that gets swept under the table pretty well.
posted by Mayor West at 6:36 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, or maybe all these places actually *suck* and deserve to go out of business.

My estimate is that at least half of all restaurants give lousy service and shitty and/or overpriced food. When more than 50 percent of restaurants are driven out of business by crowd-sourced reviews, then I'll see a problem.

PS -- Restaurant reviewing was supremely corrupt long before the internet existed.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:39 AM on February 26, 2010


All I want from restaurants is for them to have their own websites, opening hours, a few photos of their place and their food and menus that aren't bloody downloadable pdf files. And please no flash and no bloody music.

Reviews are for cowards.
posted by srboisvert at 6:43 AM on February 26, 2010 [22 favorites]


The thing with Yelp is that the review pages aren't sorted (by default) with the most recent views first or last or anything arbitrary like that. The default sort is 'Yelp Sort' which is determined by 'recency, user voting, and other review quality factors.' One can easily re-sort the reviews by date, rating, or rating by the 'Elites,' but I think the problem might be coming from the Yelp Sort and the possibility that the 'other review quality factors' include being a sponsor.

There might be a perception that the reviews are being removed when they're just being downranked in Yelp Sort and people aren't realizing it.
posted by mullingitover at 7:01 AM on February 26, 2010


Jeez, I hope the bad reviews I've written did not lead to extortion.
posted by desjardins at 7:01 AM on February 26, 2010


Blackmail is the crime of threatening to reveal substantially true information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand made upon the victim is met.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:07 AM on February 26, 2010


The best part is when a company spokesman named Vinnie is quoted.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:15 AM on February 26, 2010


I'm going to go out on a limb here and say: if the allegations are true, it means Yelp – or one instance of Yelp – has a execrable sales team. And, you know what, many good companies do.

When a sales team is told to sell, sell, sell no matter the consequences, the results are usually crap for everyone involved. You can see this process of devolution everywhere, from this New Yorker profile of Countrywide founder Mozilo, to this recent post about the Navy lumping together Somali pirates with terrorists.

One possible factor is that it's difficult to make money on the web. I think Yelp is a great service. While they don't charge the one-time $5 speed bump to keep out sock puppets and maniacs – and maybe they should – they do make it fairly easy for you to assess the value of the opinions posted and I'm sure *that* particular feature will improve even further over time.
posted by noway at 7:22 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related: LA Times article today about owners responses to bad reviews and their reliance on good on ratings.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:17 AM on February 26, 2010


What drives me nuts is how every restaurant on Yelp gets 4 stars. Fine dining at a top restaurant with a named chef and a 5000 bottle wine cellar? 4 stars. A bunch of 5 star "I proposed to my girlfriend here and she said yes!" reviews, and a 1 star "I asked for my coq au vin with no bacon or wine in the sauce, and they made it for me but the parsley was missing. Also, the bread was not made from organic flour'. Sleazy taqueria with 3 day old carnitas on a steam table and a bunch of Salvatruchas hanging in the back? 4 stars. A bunch of 5 star "best tacos ever and the atmosphere is so authentic! I said gracias in Spanish and the guy said back de naduh!". And some 1 star "I was totally drunk and ordered the tacos de tripa and when I realized I was eating stomach I threw up in my girlfriend's purse and she dumped me". Yelp reifies the culture where everyone's opinion is equally valued, no matter how poorly informed.

The extortion is ugly. I have friends who run small businesses who live in paralzying fear of Yelp. Getting a call from a sleazy ad salesman saying "and if you buy an ad, we can help with that negative review thing.." is awful. It's strange it's going to a private suit, you'd think the FTC would be involved.
posted by Nelson at 8:26 AM on February 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


It's a site named after the sound a dog makes when you step on it.

And you were expecting good things?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:29 AM on February 26, 2010


I'd be really sad if these accusations turn out to be true, because Yelp was the one online-review place that I trusted not to pull this kind of shenaniganry.

You trusted them, really? Not me- I had a bad experience with them about a year and a half ago, and after that, I was done.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:41 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not surprised at this on bit. We looked at Yelp because I liked the iphone app, I figured people would use it quite a bit. We are a newer project, so initial good buzz is essential. Our experience, however, was less than positive. They wanted $300 a month in order to manipulate reviews and ranking. When we went to a test page they set up to show us what we'd be paying for, every review was negative (though there were more positive reviews available than negative ones.) When we pointed this out they said 'oh, we'll take care of that.'

We didn't buy in. So far our reviews are in that 4 star range Nelson mentioned. We do get twice a week phone calls, though.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:48 AM on February 26, 2010


I remember reading the Express article and I think it's pretty obviously true from reading Yelp. Additionally, the first comment in this thread highlights another clear problem where custormers demand payoffs. These seem like major, major problems for small business owners because Yelp does carry a lot of weight. I personally use it when trying to find a new restaurant or what not, and I try my best to read the reviews with a critical eye but there's only so much I can guess at.
posted by serazin at 8:49 AM on February 26, 2010


I'm very disappointed. The TPS link was an eyeopener. Wow. And I used to trust Yelp. Not anymore.

Hmm. Enterprising MF'ites, this is a business opportunity! A crowd-sourced review site is sorely needed. I'd love one that was honest - I mean, I expect the reviewers to be all over the map quality-wise, but hopefully a smart reader can evaluate that to a degree. But when management hides/removes reviews for money - that's death. Credibility just went down to ZERO. Which means, to me, Yelp is dead or dying.

Who wants to start the new Yelp? There's a lot of pent up demand for that... especially if this case turns to real bad publicity for Yelp.
posted by VikingSword at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2010


Yelp isn't really set up to be very useful and abuse resistant. First of all the review feedback buttons need to have the "funny" and "cool" buttons removed, that's just a snark magnet. Replace them with "accurate" and/or "believable", and provide the ability to downrate as well as uprate a review on those properties.

Secondly, reviewers need reputation ratings, which would start at 0 and could go into negative as well as positive values. It would go up with longevity and the number of "accurate" feedback points... and the reputation of the person giving the feedback should also contribute to the weight that the feedback has on the reviewer's reputation. Finally, sort the reviews on a formula that takes the reputation as well as the age of the review into account. It wouldn't be perfect by any means, but it would be less of a free-for-all.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:08 AM on February 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I had been hearing about Yelp's antics at least a year before the East Bay Express article. Payment isn't just to remove 1 star reviews - it also is so they don't start deleting 4-5 star reviews as well.
posted by yeloson at 9:10 AM on February 26, 2010


A couple years ago Yelp suddenly was at the top of google listings. It just came out of nowhere. No one I know knew anything about it, and the people I know are fairly web savvy. I'm guessing they got to the top via aggressive SEO. I still dont understand how their got that massive page rank for pretty much any business I search.

Regardless, at that time I was looking for a new dentist and was checking one out recommended by a friend. One review was borderline hysterical. Someone described being strapped (he specially mentioned real straps) to a chair and more or less being tortured. He was yelled at by the staff while he was begging for them to stop because of the pain.

I visited this dentist regardless and found it to be this ultra-swanky modern office, with ceiling mounted televisions and massage chairs. I didnt see any straps or rooms that lock. The staff was unusually nice. I still wonder at the level of pissed off-ness one has to have to even begin writing a fictional account of being tortured at the dentist's office. I think most yelp reviewers are just like that guy except their craziness knob isnt at 11, its more like at 7 or 8.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:16 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


NPR did a spot on Yelp back when they started allowing restaurants to respond to negative reviews. They interviewed a restaurant owner who's place got a very bad review because he refused to honor a customers coupon. Which was frustrating for the owner because his restaurant never offered coupons.
posted by Drab_Parts at 9:26 AM on February 26, 2010


Anyone want to write a review of my business that includes any of these words?

goddesslike, genius, 'I'm not worthy to shop here,' 'the ne plus ultra of knitting studios,' breathtaking, mindblowing


No?

Aww c'mon, MetaFilter, what're you good for, anyway? (ha ha ha)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:29 AM on February 26, 2010


A couple years ago Yelp suddenly was at the top of google listings. ... I'm guessing they got to the top via aggressive SEO.

I remember that. The main thing I noticed at the time was that it was the first website with the name of the business in the URL. At the time that was unusual, but now a lot of folks have caught on to that (including our beloved Metafilter). Also Yelp was the first website that was spider-friendly and had a simple, factual description of the place without any garbage surrounding it. That's all SEO stuff, but the good kind.
posted by Nelson at 9:49 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've started to feel like I'm being stalked by a Yelp employee that has recently rated two of my reviews "Cool"
posted by wcfields at 9:54 AM on February 26, 2010


What I hate most about Yelp reviews is when people address the restaurants in the second person and think they're being clever. And those are usually the reviews that have the most votes for being 'funny' or 'cool.'

The ability to rate reviews as funny or cool is a misfeature in the first place. I don't want, when reading about a restaurant, to read something funny or cool (esp. since it's invariably "funny" in a fairly particular way that doesn't interest me); all that does is lead to reviewer preening. Is the review useful? That's something worth knowing. (Though all it could really mean is "corroborated".) Its humor content doesn't reflect on the establishment.
posted by kenko at 9:56 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The negative review wagon goes round and round to other businesses, too.
The computer store I was working at had a few random negative reviews from people who had clearly signed-up purely to leave us poor feedback (only one review, no profile setup), but the reviews stayed. Yelp called twice a week.
A competitors Yelp page had something like 40 positive reviews (all by people with one review and no profile). We complained about this guy's reviews and like magic, they all disappeared. Our 1-review-wonders also disappeared at the same time.
I don't know if it was just general pruning on their part, but it didn't seem to affect any of the other computer shops in the area. Maybe they were paying members.
posted by tmt at 10:37 AM on February 26, 2010


I've been skeptical of Yelp's business practices ever since I did a search for "vegan restaurant" here in Phoenix and saw that the "sponsored result" at the top of the page was a steakhouse. Apparently, letting a local businessowner pay to make a LOL VEGETARIANS joke is more important to them than providing users with accurate information about the restaurants in their area.
posted by arianell at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2010


I always, always switch from "Yelp Sort" to "Recent" for reviews. That way I can see the most up-to-date feedback for the location.

Note that the default sort for businesses search is some weird "Recommended" sort too. I always switch from that to either "Number of Reviews" or "Average Rating". I definitely remember reading about this racket months ago, and have always ignored the odd 1 star or gushing review as likely fake outliers.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:48 AM on February 26, 2010


Oh man this is no fucking surprise to me. These fucking guys were constantly calling me telling me how they would help with my reviews of my stores if I signed an ad contract with them. Fuck you yelp, fuck you in your fucking eye.
posted by vito90 at 11:00 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. Yelp wasn't on my radar screen except to check restaurants for hours of operation, but reading about their shitty behaviour is inspiring me to get off my ass and sign up to write a good review of a small company I used last year. They've sent me a couple of email requests to write them up on Yelp and I never got around to doing anything about it.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:29 AM on February 26, 2010


I don't have a problem with YELP, it's been good for my business. I had one fake review that was eventually removed.

My experience with the sales people weren't bad either. I never got the impression that I would receive any favorable treatment if I signed up either. I chose not to sign up for the sponsored service, I don't need it.

That said the East Bay Express suuuuucks.
posted by pianomover at 12:11 PM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I didn't see this linked yet: here's what "a former Yelp account executive" has to say. I tend to agree that the businesses complaining about what Yelp does don't actually understand what's being offered to them. If Yelp's salespeople are encouraging those misunderstandings, that's obviously bad, but their official process seems sound to me.

Also, good job, everyone who saw a thread about Yelp and decided it would be the perfect place to rant about some dumb review you read once.
posted by rolandcrosby at 12:16 PM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


This must be different for each city. Yelp in Honolulu is pretty damned useful.
posted by kanewai at 12:55 PM on February 26, 2010


Agreed. I learned this the other week when I was hesitant about going to a ramen place because of the bad reviews on Yelp, but it ended up being perfectly delicious. Now I feel ashamed that I lent them any kind of credence. I will also be deleting the app from my phone.

I'm sure that the ramen place would prefer you left a good review.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil Yelpers is that the satisfied say nothing.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:11 PM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


ActingTheGoat: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil Yelpers is that the satisfied say nothing.”

Er... that's not really true at all, is it? If nobody reads Yelp (and hopefully that will be the outcome here) then 'evil Yelpers' will be vanquished. Yelp will just go out of business. And one more 'internet marketing' scam will die.
posted by koeselitz at 1:22 PM on February 26, 2010


I hope Yelp doesn't go away.

Not only do I use it for maps, addresses, hours of operation and the like, but since Google stopped their SMS to Phone service, I use Yelp for that instead. Go to Yelp, pick a random review, pick 'Send to Phone' delete their info and type in my own, and away I go!

Yes, there are other websites that do this as well, but using Yelp for this is so convenient.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:22 PM on February 26, 2010


Review sites like these are already ridiculously unreliable because of all the things mentioned upthread: drive-by 1's and 5's, massive potential for exploitation, and people have no idea what they're talking about. However, pretty much all restaurant reviews, unless they contain something along the lines of "I HAD AN ORGASM IN MY MOUTH" or "THERE WERE COCKROACHES IN THE ICE WATER", are totally useless to the diner with any kind of adventurousness whatsoever. Plenty of restaurants I love get honest, heartfelt, HORRIBLE reviews from other people. Plenty of restaurants I'll never set foot in again got glowing reviews from my friends (which is why I went there in the first place). I kind of feel like the entire field of amateur criticism in general is a lost cause.
posted by tehloki at 3:46 PM on February 26, 2010


Nobody in our city seems to use Yelp. We use the Davis Wiki to get the low-down. It runs on donations. I hope the Wiki Spot community wiki idea catches on, because I'm not looking forward to leaving Davis and being stuck with the likes of Yelp.
posted by aniola at 4:38 PM on February 26, 2010


Here's a link to the veterinarian who started this lawsuit against Yelp. I'm familiar with the vet, and I've taken my cat there before. I haven't submitted a review on Yelp, and I don't plan on it. I wouldn't give him a bad review, and I might even recommend him for your cat.

If you're wondering whether his bad reviews are merited, it's hard for me to tell based on my experience. Then again, I have a general understanding that it costs actual money to take your pet to the vet, and that the vet has more knowledge about what is wrong with your pet than you are.

I think it's a sad thought that 1-star reviews on Yelp can break a business. I'm sure Yelp understands this, and regular Yelp users don't, and it is an amazing amount of power to yield.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:21 PM on February 26, 2010


I feel kind of like I'm in an alternate universe here. What metro area are y'all in? Because my experience with reviews from metro Boston have consisted of reading a lot of well-reasoned, reasonably-voiced reviews, sprinkled with a little bit of Youtube-level bloviating that gets swept under the table pretty well.
Toronto must be in the same universe as Boston. I've just recently started using yelp and i've been impressed overall by the quality of the reviews and the commuity feel of the site. In contrast urbanspoon doesn't seem to have as much content, and toronto's chowhound boards are annoying.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:27 AM on February 27, 2010


Having been on Yelp for a few years now (including a couple years as "Elite"), I do believe the link to the account executive posted above. I've never had any of my really scathing reviews removed from restaurants that pay for promotions, nor have I had a single high review removed from restaurants that refuse to pay.

All that I've ever observed is that when a business pays, they get to have a favorite review moved to the top, and they get cross-promoted on search results to similar nearby businesses. That's it.

Yelp does remove reviews, but it seems to only be in response to reviews that don't meet the TOS. Some of these are "unfair" slanderous reviews, but a larger number of them are small business owners that post fraudulent 5-star self-reviews (or have their sock puppet friends post glowing reviews). These are incredibly obvious - small business, with a couple shitty reviews from trusted reviewers, suddenly gets a bunch of 5-star reviews by reviewers with no avatar picture, no other reviews, and they all basically say the same thing. I (and most other Yelp users) flag these reviews for review. Sometimes these places then rant about how Yelpers suck on the talk boards, and attract a whole bunch more unfavorable reviews out of the woodwork. Duh.

From the SBO's perspective, they think that Yelp is punishing them because they had "good reviews removed", and they didn't understand the pitch that Yelp gave them that "good reviews will be at the top". They just think they're being strongarmed. Whatever. It works out to my benefit - I don't want sockpuppet reviews. They mislead.

The key to using Yelp is effectively to actually participate in the Yelp community. Make some trusted friends, go to some events. Figure out whose reviews you trust - the average rating on that is just that, an average. If there are enough reviews, it works out; if you see a restaurant with more than 100 reviews and it has 4.5 stars, it's *good*. If it has more than 100 reviews and has 1.5 stars, it's *bad*. But if it has less than 10 reviews, it really means nothing.

It's just an average, and half those people reviewing it have shittier taste than you do.

So I usually don't use the average - I look at the reviews of people I trust on my friends list. This works out well.

(Oh, and the whole "these aren't reviews, they're stupid long boring rants" thing? We find that fun. That's actually the entire point - it's really just a lifeblog that happens to let you rate stuff. More creativity and more useful/funny content contributed, you get rewarded by being invited out for free booze. Brilliant! Yelp != Citysearch, and I'm very happy about that.)
posted by argh at 6:55 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Never liked Yelp and felt reassured of my initial impression when a SEO spammer I know locally mentioned loving it. I only hope Urbanspoon stays semi decent. I use Urbanspoon, the Chowhound boards, eGullet, local hipster forums, and the local weekly. And word of mouth of course--still the best way.

Have noticed Facebook and Twitter, at least locally, seem to be local chefs' major line of communication to the public, with timed give-aways, menu announcements, people ranting and raving on walls, etc. of FB fan pages. Wonder how area-specific that is.
posted by ifjuly at 7:54 PM on February 27, 2010


"The key to using Yelp is effectively to actually participate in the Yelp community..."
"That's actually the entire point - it's really just a lifeblog that happens to let you rate stuff."

I'm sure you're having a blast and all, but yeah, wow. Yuck. I wasn't sure it was possible to make me like Yelp less than I already did but you somehow managed it. It reads like "Yelp is our little club, and if you just want valid well-moderated information, go pick up a newspaper, gramps. Quit disturbing our party!" I as a reader could give a crap about your "lifeblog," whatever the hell that is. I just want to know things like if they still undercook the ribs since they changed hands. I don't want to know that you got sick there, or how drunk you were.

I get that you don't want sockpuppet reviews and I totally agree with that stance. But as a person using Yelp to look shit up and not a place to document that "dude, we were soooooooooooooooooooooooo hammered" what I also don't want are useless and moronic reviews. Unfortunately there's no mechanism that filters out the useless or stupid, so like Youtube comments, Yelp fills up with garbage instead of information.

What this all makes clear to me as a reader is that Yelp is actively hostile to my needs. I don't want to join a club. I don't want to spend my time figuring out who thousands upon thousands of people are to be able to mentally filter out morons. I just want to drop the name of something, find out if it's okay, still in business, open for lunch, or whatever. Yelp still can't adequately serve that purpose, considers information quality a low priority, has documented problems with editorial ethics, predatory sales practices, and is full of noise ("lifeblog" variety or Youtube variety). It's not for me and I can't much recommend it.
posted by majick at 4:29 AM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yelp responds with details on how they suspect the bad feelings are created:
Step 1. Business owner gets a sales call from Yelp that explains an advertising product which seems nuanced; hears stuff like "Favorite review at top" and "Enhance your presence". Business owner eventually decides, "Thanks, but no thanks on the ads, Yelp."

Step 2. Business owner newly-exposed to Yelp decides it’s interesting and aggressively solicits all their family and friends to write reviews.

Step 3. We've already cautioned against this practice and this is why: a few days later, our automated filter suppresses the suspicious-looking reviews.

Step 4. Business assumes algorithmic process in Step 3 is actually a Yelp employee manually punishing the business for declining to advertise in Step 1.

Optional Step 5. Now-angry business finds the Orly Taitz of internet lawyers who may or may not have read about our recent funding round.
posted by noway at 5:15 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older Pictures of toy store video game console kiosks! v...  |  The Daily Bunny... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments