Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yelp's CEO Responds to Policy Change, Continues to Spin the Story

By Kathleen Richards
Tue, May 26, 2009 at 12:19 PM

Once again, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has successfully spun the story, and a reporter has failed to call him on it. In a recent Q&A with Stoppelman in the LA Times, reporter Robin Abcarian asks the question: What made Yelp decide to allow business owners to comment on its reviews? It's a legitimate question in light of the fact that Stoppelman had continuously insisted that it would chill the speech of Yelpers. But then, as Abcarian points out, the company did an abrupt about-face after a series of stories I wrote in which multiple business owners said that Yelp's sales reps offered to move or remove their negative reviews if they advertised.

Essentially, biz owners were being held hostage by reviews, whether or not they contained true or false information, written by competitors or customers. The articles, which were mentioned by several major news outlets, including The New York Times, unleashed a wave of criticism about the company's unfair and shady practices, and many more business owners came forward with similar claims of extortion. Stoppelman's response was that the biz owners were simply misinformed about the company's algorithm, or unhip to the world of Web 2.0. And he continues to be able to change the subject because reporters continue to let the extortion claims slide. When Abcarian asks why Stoppelman decided to change the company's policies, Stoppelman responds, "I don't think anything really changed," and then adds, "the noise level from business owners rose." He also blames the recession and says the benefits of the change were greater than the risks to make business owners "feel like the site is more fair." Abcarian lets that explanation sit and doesn't ask about the extortion claims (even though she cites them in her intro as the backdrop for the company's changed policy). Of course, Stoppelman would likely continue to deny the claims, but in light of many other business owners coming forward saying otherwise, it seems irresponsible to let that angle go.

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