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Digital Culture Clash?



Chris O’Brien of the San Jose Mercury News has been writing about Yelp of late and I thought his most recent piece was spot on.

Chris: “After wading through the
responses, it became clear that there is a real disconnect between many
in the local business community and Yelp. The company recognizes that,
and I think it is attempting to bridge the gap. Doing that successfully
will require striking a balance that the company hasn’t quite achieved
yet.

Absolutely agree. Our site’s reach and influence has far outstripped our initially modest efforts to explain to business owners who we are, what we do, and why. To step up our efforts we’ve recently hired a Manager of Local Business Outreach who will coordinate education and outreach activities which have already begun in cities across the US. Just in the last couple of weeks we’ve had Yelp representatives speak to the Denver Independent Network of Restaurants, the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Main Street Business Association, the Metro
Independent Business Alliance in Minneapolis and the Rotary Club of
Miami Beach, just to name a few.

Chris: “If Yelp releases too many
details about its algorithms and policies, then it might provide
information that could be used by other merchants and reviewers to game
the system. If that happens, it becomes less valuable to consumers.
Walking this narrow line will require constant adjustments.”

This is a key challenge of our business (and other similar businesses). We purposefully make it easy for people to create an account
and start contributing reviews. The obvious risk is that some people will try
to take advantage of this ease of use to write fake reviews or solicit biased ones, so we deal with this problem by using an automated review filter that hides a small percentage of all reviews. The system is necessarily secretive so that it’s difficult to game. All
of this turns out to be enormously frustrating to a lot of business owners
because it’s not intuitive why one review might stay up and another gets
pulled down. We understand that, but the alternative is much worse: a
site that is full of fake and biased reviews. It’s also worth noting that we’re not the only company to deal with this type of problem: PayPal has a system that allows easy payments but tries to identify and stop risky transactions and Google has some of their best and brightest working hard to ensure you can’t manipulate their secret ranking algorithm.

Chris: “Jean Katsuro, owner of
the Classic Rock jewelry store in San Jose, called to tell me that she
signed up for Yelp after hearing great things from fellow business
owners. That, and the fact that Yelp was already increasing her
business, persuaded Katsuro to become a client.

Hopefully, Yelp’s struggles and progress will provide lessons on how to bridge this divide, so it doesn’t become a chasm.”

It’s great to see Yelp advertisers be given an opportunity to share their side of the story, but we do hear the critics too. We are working hard to address the concerns shared by all businesses and we’ll have more news on the outreach and product side over the coming weeks and months. Should anyone have any questions or immediate concerns, please contact us at www.yelp.com/feedback we’re listening intently and do respond to every email. We’re a new and fast growing company (a little over 4 years old) and we fully recognize that we’re not perfect. Thanks for bearing with us as we strive to be the most
trusted way for consumers to connect with great local
businesses.

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