Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Anonymously Quoted on NPR or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Yelp

Yesterday evening I logged into my email acct and found a compliment from someone on my Yelp profile. Having a few moments to spare, I opened a new window, breezed to my Yelp account and low and behold, another member was informing me that my Yelp review of the Kogi truck has been quoted in its entirety on NPR this last Monday.

"I tracked down Kogi Friday night," reads a posting on Yelp, the local-business review site. "Life as I know it has ceased to exist. I want Korean BBQ tacos, I want them now and I want them every day for the rest of my life."

Anonymously quoted, but quoted nonetheless. Which leads me to ponder explaining the seductive draw of the Yelp. There are so many haters of the Yelp, and I think some with very good reason. Rumors are rife that Yelp is fixed in favor of businesses that give advertising dollars to Yelp. The LATimes reported on February 11th of this year,

"Some restaurant owners say the San Francisco company is unusually aggressive in trying to get businesses to pay hundreds of dollars in monthly "sponsorship" fees to improve their ranking in search results and to move their most positive review to the top of the page.

They also say paying Yelp is often the only way to counter negative reviews posted by rival eateries -- a common digital-era practice, business owners say, in the highly competitive restaurant industry."We felt like we had no choice," Jamie Inzunza, owner of Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza in South Pasadena, said of the $350 she pays Yelp every month. "We decided that we had to spend all this money to protect ourselves once the bad reviews started appearing.",0,6849007.column

On the 2nd of this month, the NYTimes reported,

"Yelp has made some recent changes to please business owners. Yet it still refuses to investigate reviews accused of being inaccurate or permit businesses to respond to reviews on the site. Instead, the company operates on the premise that reviewers tend to be truthful and that greater accuracy will emerge from more reviews. Yelp “can’t neglect the needs of businesses, nor can they be a site where businesses can be abused,” said Peter Fenton, who is on Yelp’s board and is a partner at Benchmark Capital, which invested $10 million in the company.

In April, the site added Yelp for Business Owners, which allows businesses to edit their company profiles, post special offers and privately e-mail reviewers. Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive, is blogging more often about how Yelp works and just started a Twitter account to communicate with business owners and reviewers. Yelp is also planning conversations at chambers of commerce and local restaurant associations."

Amid the controversy and questionable practices, why do I continue to not only use Yelp, but consistently write reviews good and bad of the many places I go and services I experience? For two reasons. First and most importantly, I travel for a living. Despite the fact that I spend many nights away from my beloved Echo Park hovel and its inhabitants, I still need to workout, eat, get a pedicure, shop for books, drink coffee, and have the occasional glass of wine. Otherwise a two day business trip becomes 48 hours of work in a row. I need to know where in Bakersfield I can get great gumbo (Champ's), where in Hemet I can find a chirashi (Samurai), where in Temecula I can find a body sculpting class (LAFitness) and where in Palm Springs I can get a pedicure after 5 pm (still looking).

My habit is to take all Yelp reviews with a grain of salt. I tend to ignore anything that seems under or overhyped and read what the reviews say in the middle. Sometimes even reading what someone else hates about a place tells me what I will love. One Yelp reviewer's hatred of Noshi Sushi's style of nigiri tells me I will adore the simplicity, classicism and ignorance of trends in sushi construction.

There is a second reason I Yelp. Honestly, participating in the Yelp community is fun. I have made friends. I have met people I email to on a semi-regular basis. I get invited to interesting events and learn more about my beautiful Los Angeles and surrounding areas. I love Yelp. I Yelp. So sue me.


David said...

Yelp is like the mafia, who knew? You're blog is extremely informative, well written and above all fun!

Anonymous said...

yay for Elite privileges. Whatever those are.. really..

Anonymous said...

Your domination of the InterWeb is happening! As we all knew it would. txx

Food, she thought. said...

Thanks all for reading. I think of Yelp as being less like the mafia and being more like an advertising site masquerading as a review site. The user reviews are VERY powerful, but the underlying for profit aspect makes it all a little questionable.