B12 Solipsism

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Yelp is Fucked

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Too many allegations of manipulation: I’d be surprised if they survived the year without substantial changes to their business model. Too much controversy: I know I would never look at a Yelp review on my iPhone without wondering if it wasn’t paid for. Until Yelp address this article directly, and credibly, they will not be trusted again. I know I’ve deleted their application off of my iPhone.

Monica Eng investigated the local Chicago variation of the story:

With the Web site Yelp still responding to allegations by San Francisco businesses that it manipulates the prominence of positive and negative reviews, some Chicago merchants are adding to the heat.

They allege that Yelp representatives have offered to rearrange positive and negative reviews for companies that advertise on the site or sponsor Yelp Elite parties.

Ina Pinkney of Ina’s restaurant in the West Loop said that last summer a Yelp salesperson offered to “move up my good reviews if I sponsored one of their events. They called it rearranging my reviews.”

The owner of More Cupcakes, Patty Rothman, said that last fall a Yelp Chicago staffer walked into her Gold Coast shop and “guaranteed us good reviews on the site if we catered one of their parties for free.” Offended but resigned, Rothman complied. And just as promised, positive reviews bloomed for the business right after the party, Rothman said.

Other Chicago businesses told the Tribune of similar experiences but asked to remain anonymous.

Since the allegations were first reported in a San Francisco alternative weekly in mid-February, Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has been taking his side of the story in this controversy to the Web, the media and even Twitter.

[Click to read more of Chicago proprietors add to Yelp allegations — chicagotribune.com]

In other words, standard operating procedure. Pay for good reviews to be at the top, or else, your business will suffer. A Yelp mafia. “You wouldn’t want your pretty place to be messed up, would you?!”

Kathleen Richards of the East Bay Express started all the hair-shirtery:

During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared — or negative ones appeared — after owners declined to advertise.

Because they were often asked to advertise soon after receiving negative reviews, many of these business owners believe Yelp employees use such reviews as sales leads. Several, including John, even suspect Yelp employees of writing them. Indeed, Yelp does pay some employees to write reviews of businesses that are solicited for advertising. And in at least one documented instance, a business owner who refused to advertise subsequently received a negative review from a Yelp employee.

Many business owners, like John, feel so threatened by Yelp’s power to harm their business that they declined to be interviewed unless their identities were concealed. (John is not the restaurant owner’s real name.) Several business owners likened Yelp to the Mafia, and one said she feared its retaliation. “Every time I had a sales person call me and I said, ‘Sorry, it doesn’t make sense for me to do this,’ … then all of a sudden reviews start disappearing.” To these mom-and-pop business owners, Yelp’s sales tactics are coercive, unethical, and, possibly, illegal.

“That’s the biggest scam in the Bay Area,” John said. “It totally felt like a blackmail deal. I think they’re doing anything to make a sale.”

[Click to read more: East Bay Express | News | Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0]

Sepia

I wonder if my review of Sepia was buried for this exact reason [my Yelp review]. If you peruse Yelp’s page for Sepia, most reviews on the front page are raves, not the negative reviews like mine, and so many others.

The New York Times was interested too:

Local news outlets have raised questions about the company’s practices, including a recent article in the East Bay Express, an alternative weekly, with the provocative headline: “Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0.” It reported that Yelp sales representatives had promised to move or remove negative reviews for advertisers.

Mr. Stoppelman said that Yelp does not move negative reviews for advertisers and applies the same ranking system to all companies on the site. Many advertisers, including Mr. Picataggio of Tart restaurant, have negative reviews.

Some of the confusion may come from the fact that advertisers, who pay $300 to $1,000 a month, are allowed to choose which review shows up at the top of their profile page and block ads from competitors. For other businesses, the first two listings a reader sees could be an ad for a competitor and a one-star review.

“If there’s no clarity about that process at all, it exacerbates the suspicion,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and the former general counsel of Epinions, another review site.

Yelp’s lack of transparency does not affect its relationship with businesses alone. It also risks eroding users’ trust in the site. Eric Kingery, an engineer and frequent Yelp user in Chicago, discovered that a review he had written of a jeweler disappeared. “It just makes me suspicious of the impartiality,” he said. “It is a very useful service, but this kind of harms the integrity of the site.”

[Click to read more of Review Site Draws Grumbles From Merchants and Users – NYTimes.com]

Like I said, would be surprised if Yelp survives all this negativity without substantial changes to their methodology and business practices.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 8th, 2009 at 7:32 pm

9 Responses to 'Yelp is Fucked'

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  1. I am wondering why most of cosmetic surgery offices are not on Yelp. For some reason, they can manage to block their reviews.

    Fred

    11 Jul 09 at 8:44 pm

  2. […] But this policy, as reported here and in a similar NYT article, is pretty vague as to terms and definitions. How will it be enforced? Who qualifies as a blogger? Does this policy include Yelp and their pay-to-play model? […]

  3. Direct from the horses mouth on how backward and biased this company is. We responded to this generic response by Yelp to receive in more garbage about how its a fair site when in fact nothing adds up to show equality of any kind except that the ongoing complainer rules:

    Thanks for contacting us about the reviews of your business.

    We can all agree that some reviewers are more credible than
    others. For the most part, users can decide for themselves which
    reviewers they trust the most. We remove some of the guesswork by
    screening out reviews that are written by less established users.
    The process is entirely automated to avoid human bias, and it
    affects both positive and negative reviews. Since users can become
    more or less established over time, their reviews can disappear and
    reappear over time, as well. Either way, we never actually delete
    these reviews, and they can still be found on the reviewer’s
    personal profile page.

    This system proves frustrating for some because it sometimes
    affects perfectly legitimate reviews. The flip side is that it
    helps protect against fake reviews from malicious competitors and
    disgruntled former employees. We think we’ve struck a balance that
    works well for business owners and consumers alike, but we welcome
    any thoughts you might have about how to refine the balance further.

    Regards, Lucy
    Yelp User Support
    San Francisco, California

    just breathe

    9 Nov 09 at 9:07 pm

  4. […] voice and his guitar perfectly in tune, limited range, but extremely powerful. In the days before Yelp!, one had record one’s complaints in song form, and hope for compensation. Whatever that Red […]

  5. […] Nobody wants to be on The List, of course, but at least TripAdvisor seems to have more credibility than a site like Yelp! who allows the process to be subverted by financial concerns.1 […]

  6. I felt I needed to post here because I was mentioned in the post.

    The NY TIMES took what I said and twisted it badly. What I learned was never to talk to the press.

    What I did tell the NY TIMES was “ALL SITES like YELP ad driven by one think the PROFIT MOTIVE”. ” Which creates an ethical discussion to be had about these type so of sites”

    The discussion is very simple – ” If you are going to take MONEY and be driven by PROFIT then you should also be held accountable to police the reviews”.

    In the case of YELP and many other SITES like it – They do not police the site and allow anyone to post anything.

    I gave the NY TIMES a great example – We had a very negative post about how bad SOME SANDWHICH was. I called YELP and told them WE DO NOT SERVE OR MAKE THAT. I fel this person had us confused with anther establishment perhaps.

    The answer I got back from YELP was “It could have BEEN in the PAST”. I let them know I had owned the place since day one. Needless to stay the REVIEW stayed.

    Do we have some bad reviews, of course we are not perfect. We strive to be great but we are human after all.

    My only issue with YELP TYPE sites is the ETHICAL ARGUMENT.

    I say create 100% free site, fund it yourself and then let the people post away and police it themselves. Do not take money from Companies and then stand behind BS like the owner of YELP does.

    Besides he calls himself SUPER ELITE on YELP. That is scary when one is so full of themselves they call them selves SUPER ELITE. Get over yourself already…

    peter picataggio

    30 Apr 10 at 5:30 pm

  7. yelp just took out my comment. I do not understand why they want people’s comment when its going to take out negative reviews.

    Jennifer Kim

    8 Jul 10 at 3:55 pm

  8. Peter is full of bullshit

    Dana

    7 Feb 11 at 5:38 am

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