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Yelp Founder Says "No Extortion — Just a Misunderstood Algorithm"

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the trust-us-no-really dept.

Advertising 120

Early last year, a story in the East Bay Express reported that review site Yelp's ad sales force was using hardball tactics that amount to extortion — essentially, suggesting that negative reviews would remain prominent on the Yelp page for a particular restaurant or other business, unless the business bought advertising through Yelp, in which case Yelp could "do something" about the negative reviews. In a recent interview with the New York Times (the questions seem rather softball, but they do address this issue), Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman says it just isn't so, and blames unhappiness by business owners with the review site on the site's "automated and algorithmic" review-filtering system, which he describes as "counterintuitive." Stoppelman also says that Yelp's advertising salesmen have no connection to that filtering system, which doesn't quite answer the question of whether the salesmen claimed to be able to influence the reviews displayed, as some business owners allege. Updated 22:09 GMT by timothy: As reader AKMask points out below (now corrected above), that's the East Bay Express, rather than the East Bay Examiner.

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It's New York !! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31642464)

Only Chicao even comes close to the corruption there.

Re:It's New York !! (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31642476)

Washington DC has been pretty bad lately. Worse than usual. Hope and change, baby!!

Re:It's New York !! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31642888)

No kidding - I mean, killing a million Iraqis for no reason is one thing, but letting a NIGGER run the show? And then giving MOAR NIGGERS health care? WTF?

Re:It's New York !! (0, Troll)

Gruff1002 (717818) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643038)

No kidding - I mean, killing a million Iraqis for no reason is one thing, but letting a NIGGER run the show? And then giving MOAR NIGGERS health care? WTF?

Mod troll, can't even spell right LOL

I'm a Yelp engineer. He's not lying (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31644906)

Hi. I'm an engineer at Yelp. I know for a fact that niggers cannot influence reviews in any way. They have no access to the internal Nigger administration pages; niggers use a separate Salesforce site for doing their welfare fraud. In fact, they are not even allowed to post reviews to the whites.

Obviously I did not hear the conversation you had with the Nigger salesperson, but I would be VERY surprised if niggers suggested they could influence reviews. Every new Nigger advertiser gets a call within days of signing up for advertising. As part of this call the nigger's account manager goes over the fact that niggers can not influences reviews in any way. If a nigger was suggesting that they could influence reviews, the nigger manager would find out during this call and that nigger would be lynched.

As to your other points:
1) Niggers
2) Niggers
3) I think that we can make a useful site and use nigger revenue to pay for our meals. At least Google has managed this feat, so it is not impossible.

We try really hard at Yelp to make a useful/funny/cool site that balances the needs of both nigger owners and nigger consumers. We definitely don't always make everyone happy, but we are always listening to feedback and trying to make things better.

New maximum (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31642480)

Lies, damned lies, statistics and PR stunts.

Re:New maximum (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642644)

You mean "maxim", not maximum. (Although it's more like a soundbite than a maxim really)

Re:New maximum (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31642874)

You're currently rated "Troll". Write to me to get your point across more effectively. How does +6 "Awesome" sound? Send email to: lockinsubscriptions@cmdrtacoretirementfundslushdotfund now!

Re:New maximum (1)

Rip Dick (1207150) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643258)

How is this offtopic? It's a joke about extortion. May not be hilarious, but certainly not offtopic.

Sham (2, Interesting)

DogDude (805747) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642490)

Yelp is a sham. They'll soon be swept into the dustbin of unprofitable dot-com businesses that were born out of massive venture capital and hype, but die quietly after a few years of losing money. I'm a small business owner and I don't care about Yelp. If a business owner is so out of touch with his/her business that they don't know if they have unhappy customers, then they're doomed to failure, anyway.

Re:Sham (3, Insightful)

mellon (7048) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642626)

You might want to reconsider that. My wife and I use Yelp on the iPhone as one of our primary sources of information on how to get stuff we need when we're on the road. If you're not in Yelp, you're probably missing a lot of walk-in opportunities. If you're doing well on local advertising and reputation, great, but if you'd like to have more new customers, Yelp is actually a good way to make it happen.

The problem with services like Yelp is getting good information out of them--unfortunately, the main motivation people have for writing reviews on the web is that they are pissed off, and so that tends to work against any place that ever has a pissed off customer, which is pretty much every place. So we tend to look for patterns in the bad reviews to see what they tell us, and also patterns in the good reviews to make sure they're not fake. It's worked out pretty well for us.

Re:Sham (5, Insightful)

DogDude (805747) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642660)

I'm betting that most people who are looking for reviews online are just going to use Google. It's free and ubiquitous.

Regardless, online reviews are pretty pointless. They're anonymous and easily gamed by anybody on the planet. They're about as reliable as bathroom stall graffiti.

And not even close to the same thing. (1)

aussersterne (212916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642790)

But it probably is useful primarily in highly dense urban areas like NYC (where I, too, live, using Yelp almost continuously).

Re:Sham (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643202)

Regardless, online reviews are pretty pointless. They're anonymous and easily gamed by anybody on the planet. They're about as reliable as bathroom stall graffiti.

Do you have a better option for someone just passing through who just wants a nice place to eat? The only alternative I'm aware of is the back of the phone book. With online reviews, I can check a few sites and mostly figure out whether it's the kind of place I'm going to like. Back of the phonebook is a total crapshoot.

Re:Sham (5, Insightful)

lul_wat (1623489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643816)

I walk up to a local person and ask them what they would recommend. If it doesn't sound appealing then I ask the next local. It's not rocket science but it might be a bit of a leap. Most people are happy to tell you as you've asked their opinion on something and it boosts their ego to think they are a subject matter expert (which they are in this case as you know flat zero about the local food)

Re:Sham (1)

pigphish (1070214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644582)

Agreed... with the added bonus of the algorithm automatically assuming you make good food (and no bad reviews) if you advertise on yelp.

TripAdvisor.com (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645354)

I've been pretty happy with TripAdvisor.com. They don't seem to manipulate the reviews.

Re:Sham (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645428)

Huh? the guy said they were unreliable. Does it matter if there isn't another way? Its like calling a pile of rocks an unreliable space ship. Who cares if there isn't another way? The way we're bashing isn't a way to accomplish the necessary task.

Re:Sham (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643576)

I've found that when searching for reviews on Google, I see more clearly sham reviews than on Yelp. Yelp isn't perfect, but if you read it knowing they game the reviews for their paying customers and have a well-tuned bullshit detector, it can be useful in a strange city.

Re:Sham (2, Funny)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644380)

"They're about as reliable as bathroom stall graffiti."

At least with the grafitti you might get a blow-job to go with that Chicken Marsala and Riesling.

Re:Sham (0, Redundant)

pigphish (1070214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644546)

please mod me insightful too... i also have nothing of value to say

Re:Sham (1)

w32jon (1317789) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644726)

Well, when I search for restaurant reviews on Google, I often see Yelp near or at the top of the results.

With online reviews, I would agree with you if the establishment in question has only a handful of reviews.

On the other hand, if I see a place with 150+ positive online reviews, it's likely that place has good food.

Yes, there are shills, unreasonable customers, people with poor taste, not every good restaurant will be reviewed, some duds will get good reviews, etc., but it's better than having no information at all.

Re:Sham (1)

genmax (990012) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645628)

What is more, there is a number next to the reviewer's name which says how many reviews s/he has submitted. Shills are unlikely to have reviewed 120 other establishments to prop up one. Perhaps that's what they meant by an algorithm for ranking reviews ?

Re:Sham (1)

lee1 (219161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643560)

Is't it time for Apple to ban Yelp from the App Store?

Re:Sham (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645126)

>Yelp is a sham. They'll soon be swept into the dustbin of unprofitable dot-com businesses

I imagine a better way to do a "review everything" site would be via a wiki or at least some kind of decentralized process with some kind of karma/voting on reviews. Sure, make money with ads, but dont try to make money with protection schemes and paid-for editing. Yelp is really a nightmare. I feel sorry for the small business person who can be destroyed by bullshit internet reviews and who is paying yelp $300 a month for protection. Shame people trust yelp so much. I guess we're still Web 1.0 naive here.

Re:Sham (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645310)

They'll soon be swept into the dustbin of unprofitable dot-com businesses that were born out of massive venture capital and hype, but die quietly after a few years of losing money.

You're kidding, right? Or maybe wishful thinking? Yelp has huge traffic and is quite popular. Simply a fact.

I'm a small business owner and I don't care about Yelp.

Than clearly you don't need any new customers.

Re:Sham (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31645754)

Stoppleman is lying his head off. Two years ago I bought a couple of used IBM PCs from a local mailorder outfit. They shipped junk hardware, broken machines, and a pirated copy of Windows XP installed. It wouldn't boot into Windows without the OEM serial number. No refunds out of the pirates of course. So I posted details on Yelp, including the fact that I'd notified the Campbell, CA. police fraud office and had full documentation. Another guy read my descriptions and noted he'd been ripped off by these guys too. Not too much later, our comments were removed from Yelp and the fraudulent company continued to rip off others. Eventually Campbell closed them down there but they moved to another city and continued their practices. And Yelp posted nothing but positive reviews of the company. Yelp's extortion and fraudulent practices are widely discussed in the Bay Area, and well known. They're scum.

Let's say it again, all together now (0)

srussia (884021) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642542)

Blackmail is not extortion. While both may be dubious business practices, the former may be defensible from a free-speech perspective.

On a related note, Yelp co-founder Stoppelman's name seems strangely germane to the affair: estoppel [wikipedia.org]

Re:Let's say it again, all together now (3, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642796)

Blackmail is not extortion.

Maybe so, but they are both sides of the same coin ... and we'd appreciate it very much if you'd give that coin to us .

Re:Let's say it again, all together now (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31643046)

Germane indeed. It's exactly the kind of behavior you'd expect from a Jew. Notice how many corrupt social networking sites are run by Jews?

Re:Let's say it again, all together now (1)

Moridin42 (219670) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644026)

Actually.. blackmail is extortion. Not all extortion is blackmail, however. Although I must have missed where someone else called it blackmail. Unless you're trying to make that point, erroneously. Blackmail is coercion by the threat of disclosure to obtain resources. Yelp is disclosing the information and allegedly asking for 'protection' (read: extortion) money to make it go away.

maybe (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31642566)

Sales people are liers. Maybe thats why.

A Misunderstanding? (4, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642576)

Sure it is ... the businesses they were extorting misunderstood that their voluntary participation was optional.

Advances in technology, such as our precious intertubes, will always bring advances in criminal activity. I hope no one hears them yelp as they go out of business when their next round of venture capital begging fails miserably. If they want to deal on business' reputations they'll need one of their own.

Re:A Misunderstanding? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642628)

You of all people should understand how misunderstandings happen. Maybe you read the title of something and completely disregard the content, say.

Re:A Misunderstanding? (4, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642748)

The co-founder of Yelpy McScumbags denies they were acting illegally? What else would you expect him to say, "Yes, we were committing extortion, but we needed to generate more advertising, but hard work & ethical business practices just weren't getting us as much revenue as we wanted"?

Read the original stories about Yelp's tactics and practices. I can only hope they end up with both civil judgements and criminal convictions.

Re:A Misunderstanding? (2, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643138)

I expect a more nuanced response to his denial. One that might, perhaps, refute it. As it stands that comment could refer to any company except for the side-splitting double meaning of "yelp" and one word from the article title, suggesting that you have perhaps put a rash need to appear witty above the more significant issue of fraud versus innuendo and human pattern-matching.

Re:A Misunderstanding? (0, Troll)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643716)

I expect a more nuanced response to his denial

you have perhaps put a rash need to appear witty above the more significant issue

It looks like you're not satisfied what he or I had to say about this matter. I think it's a safe assumption that none of the three of us probably gives a crap what the others think or say.

No kidding!!! What do you say at this point?

I'm heading off to the next story. I hear there's some China bashing going on. Meet you there.

Re:A Misunderstanding? (1)

Jay L (74152) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644144)

If Yelp's salespeople were, indeed, claiming that they could remove negative reviews - but weren't actually doing so - would that be illegal?

Because here's what we know:

1. We have multiple reports of businesses claiming that if they advertised, their negative reviews would be buried or hidden.
2. Yelp themselves says their algorithm might sometimes bury or hide negative reviews (and might sometimes boost them to the top).
3. Confirmation bias predicts we'll see business owners who bought advertising and saw fewer negative reviews, or who didn't buy advertising and saw more.
4. And we do.

new lie, same as the old lie (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31642614)

liars just won't fucking quit

you quit yelp, all your reviews disappear, hows that for magic

Re:new lie, same as the old lie (1)

cynyr (703126) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643074)

not to condone them, but all of that could be an automated algorithm, one that changes modifiers based on the relationship between Yelp and the thing being looked at. "ohh paying customer, subtract 4 from all of the reviews before sending them along to verify the rating(below -5 gets tossed), show only the ones that come back, and then add back the 4 we took away. ohh ex paying customer, same thing but add 4, and drop all that are not within 0+-5." Sales guys have no direct influance on that, apart from being able to make you a paying customer.

Re:new lie, same as the old lie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31643844)

"This Yelper's account has been closed."

In other news... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642678)

One Mr. Corleone, respectable private citizen, wishes it to be known that there was "No Extortion - Just Big Vinny's misunderstood mood swings."

This is not news. (5, Informative)

crhylove (205956) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642680)

Yelp has been bullshit for some time. It's a neat idea, but they've censored several of my negative reviews which were all factual.

As such, Yelp holds no value.

Re:This is not news. (2, Interesting)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642802)

I wonder if they're trying to adjust for people's tendencies to leave a negative review more often than a positive review. In other words, if you think you got screwed, you'd be more likely to post that than if everything was fine.

Re:This is not news. (2, Interesting)

lag10 (667114) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643606)

Yelp has been bullshit for some time. It's a neat idea, but they've censored several of my negative reviews which were all factual.

As such, Yelp holds no value.

This seems to be a common problem with such reviews. Fortunately, I've never seen Google Local remove any review that I've made.

Re:This is not news. (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644754)

You need to find some businesses that are not advertisers to complain about if you want your negative reviews to stick around.

Oh, the algorithm... (1)

squisher (212661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642686)

So they were not extorting, they just wrote an algorithm that does the extortion for them. Great blame game, if they hadn't written the algorithm themselves...

Re:Oh, the algorithm... (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642774)

So they were not extorting, they just wrote an algorithm that does the extortion for them.

Isn't that what Madoff and his programmers claimed?

Re:Oh, the algorithm... (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643118)

I cannot tell a lie, the computer did it.

Re:Oh, the algorithm... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31643168)

So they were not extorting, they just wrote an algorithm that does the extortion for them. Great blame game, if they hadn't written the algorithm themselves...

I didn't know an algorithm could be Jewish....

Hey, it's New York (5, Funny)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642718)

It's not "extortion". That's such an ugly word. Clearly, there has been a misunderstanding. Yelp is merely offering "protection". You know, 'cause if youse don' have protection, t'ings coul' happen. You know, "t'ings". Maybe somebody trips and falls. Maybe a bun warmer overheats and there's a fire. Maybe people decide the food sucks and write about it. Like a whole lot'a people. You know?

Re:Hey, it's New York (1)

genner (694963) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643512)

It's not "extortion". That's such an ugly word. Clearly, there has been a misunderstanding. Yelp is merely offering "protection". You know, 'cause if youse don' have protection, t'ings coul' happen. You know, "t'ings". Maybe somebody trips and falls. Maybe a bun warmer overheats and there's a fire. Maybe people decide the food sucks and write about it. Like a whole lot'a people. You know?

Huh, I wonder what that means?

I almost believe him (5, Insightful)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642800)

Salespeople are the biggest fuck-ups you'll ever work with. They always make all kinds of bullshit claims about a product that you, if you the technician, will get to correct and thus take the wrath of the customer. I worked in a tech support call center a few years ago and I'd always get two or three calls each day where the customer would complain that the sales person told him that the program did X and Y, but he couldn't make it do X and Y. I would then inform him that he was misinformed and the program really did not do X and Y, and then I'd sit through a barrage of abuse directed at the company.

Re:I almost believe him (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644474)

"...and then I'd sit through a barrage of abuse directed at the company."

Sounds like you're a glutton for punishment.

Why else would you come here to Slashdot and share your intimate moments of anguish knowing full well that you would be mocked and teased with +X Funny moderation?

Re:I almost believe him (1)

initialE (758110) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645884)

To be fair you can't really tell if it's what the salesman said, or what he thought he wanted to say, or what the customer wanted to hear, or that the customer had a mental filter that blocked out all the bad parts.

Stoppelman doesn't get it (5, Interesting)

sweatyboatman (457800) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642810)

My first reaction on hearing about the lawsuits against Yelp was to lump it in with the idea of suing Google because you don't like your search position. But the more I read from the Yelp side of this, the shadier their practices seem. And this article, while pretty fluffy, did nothing to improve Yelp's standing in my eyes.

In fact, it made me think that beyond everything else, Yelp just doesn't get it. Stoppelman sure doesn't:

When a consumer encounters a business’s page, the reviews they’re seeing aren’t necessarily every review that’s been written about the business. It’s a selection of those reviews. It ensures that the consumer sees generally useful, trustworthy information that gives them a good idea of what to expect when they patronize that business.

So they have an "algorithm" that randomly and seemingly arbitrarily changes what reviews are visible on a business's page. Great, I am sure there are plenty of other sites that follow a similar approach. But there's nothing in there about any kind of system to ensure that their "algorithm" isn't abusive. There's no mention of oversight, nor of feedback. It'd be interesting to hear a general outline of how this "algorithm" does its thing.

Of course, he follows up with this:

The more that we explain about the algorithm, the less effective it becomes.

Which makes it sound like either the "algorithm" isn't all that complicated or they don't exactly know how the algorithm works and they fired the guy who wrote it. On second thought, this just makes it sounds like they're making the whole "algorithm" thing up. Maybe "the algorithm" is twenty interns sitting in the basement sifting through reviews about coffee houses and dry cleaners.

Any way I think about it, I cannot imagine using their service or trusting the reviews I read on Yelp.

Re:Stoppelman doesn't get it (3, Informative)

droopycom (470921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31642966)

Of course, he follows up with this:

The more that we explain about the algorithm, the less effective it becomes.

Doesn't Google does the same thing with their pagerank algorithm ?

When people know too much about the algorithm, they can game it.

Same reason why credit scoring company wont release their algorithms... Well, they might have further economic motives for that, but still if I knew exactly how the algorithm for my credit score worked, I could certainly dramatically improve my credit without doing anything that actually show I'm credit worthy...

Re:Stoppelman doesn't get it (5, Insightful)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643268)

When people know too much about the algorithm, they can game it.

Same reason why credit scoring company wont release their algorithms... Well, they might have further economic motives for that, but still if I knew exactly how the algorithm for my credit score worked, I could certainly dramatically improve my credit without doing anything that actually show I'm credit worthy...

The fundamental problem is that such algorithms are based on taking a small bit of information and extrapolating a result from it. It's fundamentally the reason why benchmarks are often both gamed and a very bad way of actually understanding the products being measured. The answer to the problem has consistently been shown to be not to withhold information about the way a benchmark is made, since invariably people will find a way to reverse engineer the algorithm and game it anyways; the answer is to further refine the benchmark to take more and more samples until the point that even if the benchmark is incomplete at measuring things, anything that tried to game the benchmark would still be very close to meeting what the benchmark is meant to represent.

AFAIK, that's primarily what Google has done with the page ranking algorithm. If Yelp is really worried about having a good review system, they should focus less on trying to hide how their algorithm works and more on improving their algorithm to guarantee it works. In the end, they'll remain ahead of any competitors so long as they can maintain a consistent lead on quality through such efforts. Any other mindset really is based in a belief that one has some sort of monopoly that can't be replaced. It's one of the reasons why complacent middle management, which is primarily a byproduct of large corporations, kills most corporate monopolies.

Re:Stoppelman doesn't get it (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645020)

People do know in general terms how credit scores work. In the UK it tends to work as follows:

You get points for:
Being on the electoral register
Having a landline telephone
Having a history of paying off previous credit agreements on time
Being married
Being at your current address for a number of years
Being employed, and having been in your current job for a number of years
Owning the property you live in

You lose points for:
Having a history of defaults on credit agreements, court judgements, bankruptcy, etc
Being divorced
Changing your address regularly

How many points you get or lose for each depends on the lender and the loan in question, but you can still work out how to improve your score.

Re:Stoppelman doesn't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31645318)

seriously? or is this a joke? Lots of credit worthy people are divorced and travel for their jobs 100% of the time, what kind of bigoted moron came up with the UK credit scoring system if this is true?

Re:Stoppelman doesn't get it (1)

nEoN nOoDlE (27594) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643602)

I use Yelp all the time, and I've found great restaurants and other services through there. As for the reviews, it's just like Amazon, you get a gerneral consensus with the average rating, and then you read a couple positive reviews, a couple negatives ones, and then make up your mind based on them. I don't understand how a shady algorithm would make you trust Yelp reviews any less because of their display algorithm

East Bay EXPRESS (3, Informative)

AKMask (843456) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643006)

Not the East Bay Examiner. Writer was thinking about the San Francisco Examiner, which did not run the story.

Re:East Bay EXPRESS (1)

AKMask (843456) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643166)

How awesome, I got some /. love in the summary.

Re:East Bay EXPRESS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31646400)

And then shot down for gloating. That'll teach you kids.

Thin Skins (3, Interesting)

fm6 (162816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643028)

I can't be bothered to dig up the link, but there was a story about a restaurant in San Francisco that was so mad at Yelp they had all their employees wear satirical shirts. I looked up that restaurant's Yelp page, and discovered a large number of extremely positive reviews and the usual comments by people who hate everything. All in all, Yelp is a big driver of business for these people. Some people just go ballistic at the slightest hint of criticism.

One thing that does bug me about Yelp is the way people suddenly develop enthusiasms for businesses of limited merit. Three or four times I've gone out for lunch based on Yelp reviews and been a little puzzled as to what all the fuss was about. One was a Halal [ifanca.org] restaurant that serves OK food, but is a little on the pricey side for what they serve. (Following religious law in food preparation drives up the overhead a bit.) Needless to say, the staff are a little confused by this sudden influx of non-Muslim customers!

Re:Thin Skins (1)

petsounds (593538) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644978)

Yelp is a bit like government. It may be corrupt to a lesser or greater degree, but occasionally it's quite useful. I was just in NYC, and being vegan it was quite helpful in finding good restaurants in short order.

Re:Thin Skins (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645438)

You're talking as a given that Yelp is corrupt. I don't think it is, and the whole point of TFA is that Yelp claims they're not.

Re:Thin Skins (1)

petsounds (593538) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645586)

No. Yelp's level is corruption resides from 0 to 1. I know not the level, and didn't mean to imply as such. My point was, regardless of alleged corruption it has been pretty useful to me, while you seemed to infer it is not.

Re:Thin Skins (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645828)

You mean imply [cjr.org] . And I implied no such thing. One can be critical of a web site and still find it useful. And in fact I use Yelp a lot.

Experience shows that they most likely don't... (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643208)

Based on a visit I made to a Yelp-popular breakfast restaurant a month ago, I don't think Yelp is tailoring the reviews for favorable restaurants. I went there when I visited Chicago for the first time because newspaper articles and Yelp alike were hailing their pancakes as the best in town, and I love breakfast more than anything. I was extremely disappointed with the quality of their food (which was a basic omelet and pancake breakfast; kind of hard for a popular restaurant like theirs to screw up), and wrote a very scathing review on Yelp about it. I wasn't the only one either.

Weeks later, the review is still up, along with other similarly low-rated reviews.

I will agree with fm6's post and say that Yelp is excellent for delivering hype! That wasn't the only time I left a Yelp-recommended restaurant with a sour tongue; a friend of mine and I went to a small tapas bar (oh, how I hate them so...give me REAL spanish dinner, please!) that was also highly recommended on Yelp, only to find the food mediocre at best, and significantly paling in comparison to other Spanish restaurants I've visited, some of which are in my home town!

In spite of those run-ins, Yelp has helped me find a LOT of great places to eat, date and have a good time. Their forums are also quite interesting as well and have helped me tremendously when I went on my recent travel expeditions. I've heard their Elite events are even better, but I haven't made time to post reviews lately.

Re:Experience shows that they most likely don't... (0, Offtopic)

base3 (539820) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643436)

Only peripherally on-topic--a bit pricey likely because of its proximity to Michigan Avenue, but Mary's Cafe served the best damn breakfast I'd had in a long time. Try the "Stack" if you go.

Re:Experience shows that they most likely don't... (3, Informative)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643484)

Weeks later, the review is still up, along with other similarly low-rated reviews.

Maybe, or maybe not; Yelp's filter always shows reviews to their authors, even if hiding them from everyone else.

Re:Experience shows that they most likely don't... (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643550)

Ooh--that's evil. I've never left a review (I check out Yelp, keeping in mind the possibility of pay-for-play and adjusting my expectations accordingly.) If I ever do post one, I'll be sure and check it out from another IP with a different browser, cookies, etc.

Re:Experience shows that they most likely don't... (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645154)

Good point, but considering that my review got two acknowledgments and an equally long and damning review is one of the first listed, I don't think they're filtering (this restaurant).

Link: read [yelp.com]

He's lying (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31643228)

He's not even bending the truth. Yelp is a scam for business owners. The sales people can and do influence the ratings directly. I've personally seen this with my business's reviews and have talked to Yelp sales people.

I had 5, 5 star reviews, got a 6th review with 4 stars, amazingly about a week after that review, I got a call from a Yelp sales person saying that he's taken care of that review and if I'd like that to continue that it would cost me $300/month (their lowest cost plan). That payment would also keep my competitor's information from being displayed on my page when visited.

I blew them off yet again and that 4 star review showed back up.

I like the concept, but Yelp would only be useful if it wasn't a company trying to generate revenue for themselves standing behind it. A "community based" review system will only work if

1) people can't post anonymously or if they can then negative or positive anonymous reviews don't hold much weight

2) there is a review system in place to dispute slanderous claims.

3) there isn't a company behind the system trying to make a buck off of selling advertising.

and probably a 1/2 dozen or more other things in place. Nothing is perfect, but Yelp is useless if you want honest reviews about a business and that business happens to be a paying customer of Yelp.

Re:He's lying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31644326)

2) there is a review system in place to dispute slanderous claims.

I'd rather not see this. If I'm writing a review of a restaurant, in passing, and a restaurant spuriously challenges it as slanderous, it's not worth my effort to go back and defend it. A review system like this would simply allow the parties with a greater stake in the matter (restaurants) bias the results in their favour by making claims of slander for every negative review. Plus, it would require a lot of human interaction time to adjudicate it.

I'd rather see something like Yelp built into social networking - I only see the reviews that my friends, or friends of friends, have posted. If I try a restaurant on the basis of a positive review, and it's crap, I stop trusting the friend who wrote that review. And, when I set that 'do not trust' flag, my other friends also stop seeing reviews from the untrustworthy friend forwarded through me.

He's not lying (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31644478)

Hi. I'm an engineer at Yelp. I know for a fact that salespeople cannot influence reviews in any way. They have no access to the internal Yelp administration pages; they use a separate Salesforce site for doing their work. In fact, they are not even allowed to post reviews to the site.

Obviously I did not hear the conversation you had with the Yelp salesperson, but it would be VERY surprising if they suggested they could influence your reviews. Every new Yelp advertiser gets an orientation call within days of signing up for advertising. As part of this call the advertiser's account manager goes over the fact that advertising does not influences reviews in any way. If a salesperson were suggesting that they could influence reviews, the account manager would find out during this call and that salesperson would be fired. See this blog post for more information: http://officialblog.yelp.com/2010/03/additional-thoughts-on-last-weeks-lawsuit-or-how-a-conspiracy-theory-is-born-.html

As to your other points:
1) The entire purpose of the review filter is to make untrusted reviews hold less weight: http://officialblog.yelp.com/2010/03/yelp-review-filter-explained.html
2) You can respond both privately and publicly to reviews of your business: http://www.yelp.com/business/review_response
3) I think that we can make a useful site and use advertising revenue to pay for our meals. At least Google has managed this feat, so it is not impossible.

We try really hard to make Yelp a useful/funny/cool site that balances the needs of both business owners and consumers. We definitely don't always make everyone happy, but we are always listening to feedback and trying to make things better.

Re:He's not lying (2, Interesting)

pigphish (1070214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644602)

Could you please remove the following statement from your code:

if (avertiserFee > 300) then BadReview = NULL else GoodReview = NULL

Re:He's not lying (2, Interesting)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644826)

The entire purpose of the review filter is to make untrusted reviews hold less weight

So why do you remove some legitimate negative reviews entirely?

Move them to the bottom of the list, if you must, but don't delete legitimate content, EVER.

Re:He's not lying (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31645234)

So why do you remove some legitimate negative reviews entirely?

Move them to the bottom of the list, if you must, but don't delete legitimate content, EVER.

The problem is that it is impossible to algorithmically to determine what is "legitimate" content, especially in the face of people paying others to write reviews [typepad.com] . We have made the choice to be conservative about what is considered legitimate. I wasn't the one who made this decision, but it seems like the right one to me. Given the generally low signal to noise ratio of the internet it's probably best that automated filters to be as aggressive as possible.

We also have to be concerned about giving away too much about how the algorithm works. Clearly it would be ideal if the algorithm were bulletproof enough that even with complete knowledge of how it works one could not be defeat it. Unfortunately this is a very hard problem, and so we need to use some amount security through obscurity. If anyone thinks they can write a better algorithm, we are hiring.

Also, the content is not really deleted. It remains on the user's profile page, and it can be restored if it is deemed legitimate in the future.

Re:He's not lying (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645334)

I wasn't the one who made this decision

The problem is, neither was I (as a user).

If anyone thinks they can write a better algorithm, we are hiring.

Post everything, under the assumption that your users aren't total idiots who need to be protected from themselves.

Security by (algorithmic) obscurity only rewards the ones who guess how the algorithm works. It's a lot easier to game Yelp than to game Google, because the problem domain is so much narrower.

Re:He's not lying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31646424)

So then being inside a corrupt company, you are in a position to witness how corruption/lying/etc work in organizations.

So you are really saying _all_ the businesses who report very similar stories "I saw a bright light, then received a call from a gray with large eyes and no mouth saying 'I can fucking remove negative reviews and move positive reviews to the top for you for the low price of $300/month' and then I was lightly anally probed and released back to my place of business" are lying or 'mistaken'. Really?

They are lying or the salespeople are all telling very similar lies, and for people who turn down the fee then magically negative reviews show up?

Do you track IPs/accounts? Do you match up those IPs/accounts with businesses who receive negative reviews after turning down sales attempts? If you don't then you don't know shit about what your sales people may or may not be doing.
 

In fact, they are not even allowed to post reviews to the site.
If a salesperson were suggesting that they could influence reviews, the account manager would find out during this call and that salesperson would be fired.

lo-fucking-l people who are lying in the first place wont lie and create fake accounts to post negative reviews, yeah right. Sales managers are not in on the whole scam. Are you a pussy or in denial?
 
Why else would you be VERY surprised about something that is widely reported about your company's salespeople and their 'pitch' - These business people who a reporting this stuff must be conspiring very efficiently to all have gotten their stories so straight...

Be a man and at least admit to yourself that they are lying and vow to not defend them in public since that rots your soul more than just working in a corrupt organization.

I'm a Yelp engineer. He's not lying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31644740)

Hi. I'm an engineer at Yelp. I know for a fact that salespeople cannot influence reviews in any way. They have no access to the internal Yelp administration pages; they use a separate Salesforce site for doing their work. In fact, they are not even allowed to post reviews to the site.

Obviously I did not hear the conversation you had with the Yelp salesperson, but I would be VERY surprised if they suggested they could influence your reviews. Every new Yelp advertiser gets a call within days of signing up for advertising. As part of this call the advertiser's account manager goes over the fact that advertising does not influences reviews in any way. If a salesperson was suggesting that they could influence reviews, the account manager would find out during this call and that salesperson would be fired. See this blog post [yelp.com] for more information.

As to your other points:
1) The entire purpose of the review filter [yelp.com] is to make untrusted reviews hold less weight
2) You can respond both privately and publicly to reviews [yelp.com] of your business,
3) I think that we can make a useful site and use advertising revenue to pay for our meals. At least Google has managed this feat, so it is not impossible.

We try really hard at Yelp to make a useful/funny/cool site that balances the needs of both business owners and consumers. We definitely don't always make everyone happy, but we are always listening to feedback and trying to make things better.

Self serving story much? (2, Insightful)

nfc_Death (915751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643260)

That Times story is incredibly self serving for 'Yelp'. The questions asked are phrased in ways so that the answer can only be positive to or about 'Yelp'. Furthermore this reads more like an informational advertisement than actual reporting. Im kinda disappointed that I wasted my time reading the f***ing article, since it offered no information whatsoever about why their salesmen have had the finger pointed at them, nor does it even directly inquire what their 'sales' campaign actually involves. BS story IMHO

The whole Yelp crew... (1)

MyBrotherSteve (944845) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643304)

If you listen to the owner of Yelp and their PR people, every time they have an interview or talk to the press, the whole Yelp crew sounds like they've been taking private bullshitting lessons from Darl McBride over at SCO. Over the past couple years, there have been many, many, accounts from businesses that have been involved with Yelp's "marketing practices" that all have pretty much the same story about a Yelp "account executive" have either inferred or directly stated that negative reviews would not be a big problem if only said business would buy some advertising spots from Yelp. I can understand how maybe some non-techie business owners might be fooled when Stoppelman talks about unfortunate misunderstanding about their business practices, algorithms, etc., but when he's talking to the tech establishment and trying to pass off that nonsense as legitimate information, I have to be wondering if someone should be over there looking for roach clips next to the ash trays or rolled up dollar bills laying around.

Re:The whole Yelp crew... (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643734)

the whole Yelp crew sounds like they've been taking private bullshitting lessons from Darl McBride

Without even knowing the technical stuff behind yelp, this is exactly what sets off my bullshit meter. Ever since I've heard about yelp, I've never found anything redeeming about it.

To go off on your tangent, the jury restarts deliberation on Tuesday. It should be interesting to see how they handle "copyright must be transfered in writing."

--
BMO

Highway robbery (5, Informative)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643678)

I know a gent from Vietnam who runs a small restaurant. Super nice dude. He directly and flatly stated Yelp told him they would make the negative reviews prominent and fake more if he didn't cough up the dough. He could be lying, but what would he gain by telling a random customer?

Fuck Yelp and it's snobby yuppie fans.

Re:Highway robbery (1)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31646528)

I was going to post exactly the same thing!
 
... but Yelp decided it would "cooperate" with me, so I won't say anything. For now.

!di3k (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31643708)

in ouw8 group

Absolutely true from my perspective (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31643774)

We own a small business which depends heavily on Yelp for traffic (as in, our business doubled when Yelp came around). This is good. What isn't good is the subtle attempts and bullying that have come from the Yelp salesteam. We get calls every few months from salespeople making obvious comments about "controlling our image" and other such things -- and amazingly every time we turn them down we find that many of our positive reviews are removed from the system with no explanation. We currently have 5 5-star reviews (we're a small company with very personal service -- all of our reviews are overwhelmingly positive so far) out of at least 30 that have been written over the last two years....reviews written often at great effort and length by our customers. Every time we ask Yelp about it they say "reviews get removed because our algorithm detects abuse" and then "would you like to purchase a business plan from us"? They don't directly link the two, but the linkage is obvious.

I'm sure the salespeople aren't directly going into the system and removing reviews because we don't buy from them -- I'm ALSO absolutely sure that they've manipulated their "algorithm" so that people who aren't paying will have positive reviews yanked very frequently. Maybe this isn't direct extortion but it sure is shady.

I'm suspicious (2, Interesting)

slashdotjunker (761391) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643894)

We saw a restaurant on Yelp that had great reviews. We went to that restaurant and it was completely empty. Right after we sat down the waitress asked us where we heard of the restaurant. I don't like to answer questions like that, so I said nothing. My dining companion also kept silent. Immediately, the waitress asked us if we heard about the restaurant through Yelp. We nodded yes.

The food at that restaurant was lousy. I am very suspicious about that encounter. Of course, I can't draw any conclusions from a single data point. However, I have no desire to go out and collect more data. The restaurant sucked, and if a top rating at Yelp doesn't guarantee at least a decent meal, then I'm done with Yelp.

Other Better options (1)

coolate (1173457) | more than 4 years ago | (#31643968)

Like www.foodaroo.com! Way better in that it is open and anyone can add anything. Sadly not much on it :(

the algorithm (4, Funny)

sohp (22984) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644014)

looks something like this:


if (business_has_paid_for_ad) {
    review_minimum_threshold = 5;
} else {
    review_minimum_threshold = -1;
}

BS (1)

m509272 (1286764) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644196)

I've read way too many posts in so many different places that Yelp is an extortion game at the least. Numerous people have written that their posts of negative reviews have either never appeared on Yelp or disappeared in a day or so. They even reposted a bad review and that too disappeared. That along with numerous restaurant owners claiming Yelp reps have visited them promising to make bad things "go away" are just too many to ignore. This latest claim of an "algorithm" is just absolutely absurd. Hopefully everyone will get smart and ignore this piece of crap business.

See for yourself - ask business owners (1)

ZipK (1051658) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644268)

If you live in an area covered by Yelp, ask the owners of the next 10 small businesses that you patronize whether they've heard from Yelp and what they thought of their sales pitch. You'll hear the same story over and over.

if you want good reviews, then give good service (1)

jsepeta (412566) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644824)

if you can't give good service, then have your employees write nice reviews on yelp. no, i don't want the system to be gamed, but there's going to be people doing it.

my former landlord SCREWED ME for $1000 by taking my rent money then changing the locks on the doors and not letting me back into the place even though all my shit was there. so HELL YEAH i posted a negative review in yelp. they could give me my FUCKING MONEY BACK those dirtbags. the cops said it was a civil matter, not a criminal one, so for me to get my shit back or my money, i'd have to hire a goddamned lawyer and take them to court - which would cost way more than $1000 so I just took it up the ass.

PressHere TV Interview with CEO (1)

eqteam (322882) | more than 4 years ago | (#31644866)

This interview was from within a few months of the East Bay Express expose "CEO Jeremy Stoppelman talks about the online review site's success, and how often he's asked to remove bad reviews." Part 1: http://www.pressheretv.com/?cat=1&subcat=1&video=87 [pressheretv.com] Part 2: http://www.pressheretv.com/?cat=1&subcat=1&video=89 [pressheretv.com]

Yelp is sleazy (1)

lanner (107308) | more than 4 years ago | (#31645728)

Does anyone here remember when Yelp was first starting up? They used UCE/Spam to advertize themselves. My personal account got three or four duplicates across several of my aliases, which told me at the time that they had been using harvested addresses.

Review the reviewer... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31645814)

So where on yelp.com can write a review on yelp.com?

I used to work for yelp (1)

clambake (37702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31646062)

Jeremy is right, that algorithm is so convoluted and complicatedly random that they COULDN'T rig the votes, even if they wanted to. Nobody understands how it works anymore. BUT the story is right too... The sales people DO make those claims.

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