Oh Yelp! … how I do have mixed feelings about you. I dabble over there and find the site useful (if used with care). Backed by a staunch and dedicated user base, Yelp has exploded in recent months. The site has always catered to the end-user and not the business owner; however, this popularity pushed business owners to call for their own voice. Last year, Yelp empowered the “profiteers” by giving them that voice, albeit a limited one. That change handed owners the power to edit their own business profiles and respond privately to reviews.
Ah, but that was not enough and the crack in the user wall has deepened further. Consequently, Yelp is about to hand the business owners a real bone in the fight for “Real People, Real Reviews.” Starting next week, businesses will be able to publicly respond on Yelp to the reviews left by customers. So what’s all the hubbub about …
This speaks to a larger point. On a site that relies on user content and is as highly trafficked as Yelp, you simply should not take everything at face value. “Yelpers” [people who yelp – aka review on yelp] have grown into a tight group and an identifiable segment of the market. Like Wikipedians, many of them provide good content; however, many of them do not. Shills and flame wars are abundant, elitism is encouraged, and bad information (restaurant hasn’t been in Vail for 2 years+) is difficult to get fixed.
As the site began to grow in popularity (see chart), rumors surfaced like geese flying into an engine as to the “integrity” of the content. Amongst the unmentionables, claims that Yelp pressures businesses into advertising surfaced. The rumors are so widespread that Yelp now publicly refutes such claims. Ah, nothing like a public rebuttal to dispel rumors!
I’m not sure these changes mark a paradigm shift in the ideology of Yelp and/or its users; however, the changes show how complicated this whole thing is. At the end of the day, nobody knows if this will ultimately make Yelp more useful. I’ve received a few messages over there from business owners that are nothing more than bullshit pilled on crap. Thus, someone who owns a business isn’t always the best person for handling the front of the house. However, I believe in the balance of the force … so this new perspective should help. At the very least, I expect it to be great fodder for the water cooler.
Though I have yet to (and don’t intend to for that matter) meet anyone from Yelp in person, 98% of them seem to be solid people. I rely on the reviews from a handful of people and the rest I pretty much toss aside or read with nothing more than a cursory interest.