Is Yelp really all about community?

Image by Dave Schumaker via Flickr

These have always been the hardest challenges for any community. How do you monitise without selling out? How do you keep people from abusing an open community? Yelp is a very popular online community where users review businesses and services in their local area. The site has come under increasing pressure for the way they manage their reviews, both negative and positive and the way businesses paid ads are handled. Personally I think Yelp has defeated it’s own purpose in the desire to keep it clean. It’s not really a community if all the feedback is one-way and there’s no discussion allowed. Maybe that’s about to change. First the background.

Several businesses report positive reviews were removed from their pages even though the reviews were honest feedback from happy customers. One person had her positive review removed several times after she re posted it. There’s a class-action suit for people whose accounts were deleted.

I called a Yelp representative to ask what this was all about and she told me that these decisions are all based on algorithms and the staff has nothing to do with it. She also intimated that if a specific business gets a lot of positive reviews from new users who haven’t submitted a lot of reviews, they may be removed because it appears they have only signed on to review that business or been paid to do so.( Even though Yelp has paid reviewers.) Yelp defines this as “schilling” in the business owners guide. It was also intimated that reviews from people with multiple reviews were less likely to get pulled.

I know there are people out there who try to game review sites, and a site like Yelp is particularly vulnerable to this kind of thing, but it seems unfair if a user repeatedly requests their review stay on the site and it still doesn’t get posted. After all, most of the gamers use robots, they don’t actually send an email requesting their review be re-posted.

This post in SF Weekly suggests that Yelp may be extorting San Francisco businesses for the order their reviews are displayed in and even to hide negative reviews. Businesses who complain to Yelp in the past have been summarily dismissed as gamers, without any options and almost any positive reviews posted will soon disappear. In one case the business was told they were “no longer eligible” for even paid ads (Yelp calls these sponsored businesses and they get preferred placement at the top of the page), and it was assumed that was because she had had several positive reviews removed and the users who posted them complained and so did the business owner. The client was advised to just wait 3-6 months to re-submit her application for paid advertising. It was suggested that she not encourage clients to post reviews duringthis time.

We all know Yelp has had a lot of issues with user reviews in the past, and questions about the ethics of the community abound. Maybe Yelp has started listening. They’ve been sending out emails asking for feedback on a new feature that would allow business users to respond on their Yelp page to reviewers’ statements.

Personally I love the way San Francisco restaurant Pizzeria Delfina deals with it. They made t-shirts for the staff with their responses to negative reviews.

Maybe Yelp has finally listened to what users have been saying and this is the first step back towards real community. Or maybe not. What do you think?

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Nelly girl

This whole thing with Yelp sounds bad to me. Why do they hate the businesses that created their livliehood? It does not make sense to go to such lengths to alienate customers. I stopped using it long ago because I don't trust the reviews. Now I have another reason to iggy them.


We already allow businesses reply back to their customers. We even allow customers reply to each others' feedback.


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