September 26, 2007

Yelp Reviewed: Love it and Hate it == 2.5 stars


Category: User Generated Reviewer Community

So, I've been using Yelp for a while now. I use it regularly, but I'm finding it's increasingly annoying, and if it keeps increasing, I may not want to keep using it.

One of my favorite things is that when I'm driving or walking out somewhere, and need the number to a restaurant, I can google for "yelp restaurant-X city-X" and get it back on my phone screen, with the number as a clickable link, so I can just call by clicking. Faster and less expensive than calling 411, which I think on my phone bill is $2.98 and is really slow via Cingular/ATT.

Why I Love YELP

1. It's easy to review things there, add new businesses. They are very searchable in google. Just put in "yelp whatever-it-is" and it comes up to the top. And often, if you just search the entity on it's own in google, the entity comes up in the top three. It's nice to be able to have an effect on the business, especially if they have done something (good or bad) that needs to be documented for other's reference.

2. I also like restaurant reviews where people say what they liked and why, so that I can see if I'd like them.

3. I like browsing a topic or service type in a community. However, this works about half the time. Sometimes, I'm able to find the restaurant or store I couldn't think of the name for, right away. Other times, I've got browse-results that are all over the block I know something is one, and they have everything else but the thing I want. Once I google it, and get back to the Yelp page for that item I couldn't think of, i see Yelp has a gazillion reviews for that restaurant or whatever. And it's right there in the same locational block with the other entities I was just looking about before I had to get out, go to google, and then return to Yelp just to find the thing.

I think Yelp needs a serious search and discovery algorithm review.

But the idea of browsing a location and topic or service is fantastic when it works.

Why I Hate YELP

1. Their own internal search sucks. Half the time I search for things I know are there and even have sometimes reviewed, I don't get them. I've started leaving short reviews on places I need to find again so I can pivot on my own list of reviews.

Recommending again: a complete overhaul of the search and discovery algorithms.

2. Yelp's reviewers overall are a major downer. These people flounce around like they are on "happy-drugs" or in some fantasy tv-show they themselves are starring in, where they prattle on about some crap they experienced where somehow, however distantly, they associate with the entity they are reviewing. I don't know how this trend at Yelp got started, but there has got to be a way to develop a reviewer community that where each review doesn't have that tone in the reviews. I thought it was cute at first, but now they seem to have millions of these people running around with little balance for what you actually need in a review. It's over the top.

These flouncy-reviewers don't often say why something worked for them. They often just tell a personal story. Many times I've been convinced that something would be great, only to find out the entity I trusted due to the "happy people with no skepticism and lot's of personal stories" were just going on about something totally unrelated to the qualities of what they were reviewing.

When I review, I specifically take an opposite tone, review for specific acts and quality and say why, so that others can decide for themselves whether the product or service would work for them.

Recommendation: think about promoting reviews that tell why things worked by counting "useful" ratings more than "cool" or "funny." Also, could they pls add a "not useful" button to the bottom of reviews? That would help moderate this.

3. The emphasis in the Yelp community on "1st to review" is contributing to problem no. 2. Basically, Yelp reviewers get extra chits if they are first. I don't really care except I see more and more frivolous reviews just to get this status.

I have noticed on a number of occasions, for the products and services I either wanted to look up, or review myself, that the "1st to review" was totally bogus. They had clearly not used the service, often just
"seeing it from afar." To be specific, I noticed that a rental property company had a great review from someone who had never lived in any of the buildings managed by the company, never dealt with them in any way, and had totally made up stuff. Once I saw that instance, I started looking out for more of this, and have found a lot this sort of thing, with restaurants, services (and the associated products), other rental agencies, car repair shops... you name it.

Again, having a "not useful" button would really help us mod down the people who are just there to be first and add nothing to the actual solution Yelp is trying to solve.


As I said Yelp has it's uses:
1. reviewing something is satisfying if you have something useful to say
2. searching for things in google produces good Yelp reviews, and they have clickable phone numbers in my phone
3. browsing an "area" for some topic is great, when it works

However, the problems I outlined will soon make the service unusable if they take over. I think they need an algorithm review (and I hope they don't use the same ones for search and browse.. they need to be different and carefully crafted).

They also need to look at some of the community features to help temper this tone that the community has taken of writing personal stories that don't tell you much except about the person writing the review. That's potentially the most devastating thing that could happen to Yelp, if they don't keep it in check: being labeled as frivolous and silly, which translates to unuseful. For me, they are nearly crossing the line on that one. I like the service and hope they get it together and rein this in, or I'll start trying other services and abandon everything I've done at Yelp for a more reasonable and useful tone.

Posted by Mary Hodder at September 26, 2007 08:17 AM | TrackBack

Mary, check out my Yelp reviews, I focus on writing about where you shouldn't go. For instance: Terrible DC Restaurants:

Posted by: Chris H at September 30, 2007 08:33 PM