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Re: “Yelp Extortion Allegations Stack Up

Alright, in fairness to the AP's Rachel Metz (who is still a putz for writing such a benign article about yelp), there are at least two duplicate copies of her article on with different titles. One allows comments, the other doesn't. I jumped to conclusions. I assumed the worst. I posted false information. Oh crap... I'm a yelper! ;)

Kathleen Richards did a great job of sparking interest in the yelp story, but the follow up stories from other reporters have been wishy washy at best. I am eagerly awaiting the next reporter with the actual guts to blow the lid off the yelp story completely.

My comment about Rachel Metz's yelp article and suggestions for reporting the actual evidence:

This article is a total disappointment, and one that yelp will surely use to "prove" that the problem is with confused business owners and not with their own business model. Rachel took the easy way out on this story by focusing on a single business owner who is apparently still on the fence about yelp.

Rachel falsely reports, "One big gripe from businesses that get reviewed on Yelp is that they don't quite get how it works." The truth is that yelp hides behind an "algorithm" that it cannot explain, even in laymen's terms, because it will prove what so many business owners have been reporting. The "algorithm" has nothing to do with spam or the integrity of site content, and is instead used to manipulate reviews.

This is not a difficult problem to prove, but it does require some basic investigative reporting skills. If you read the yelp reviews of yelp itself, you will find many reviewers and business owners complaining about the various problems with yelp -- suppressed reviews that are hidden from readers but still used by yelp in their marketing figures, reviews that are deleted without any explanation given to the writer, false and malicious reviews that are flagged repeatedly but never removed, positive reviews written by regular yelpers that mysteriously disappear, business owners that are banned from the yelp elite simply because they are business owners, yelpers that lose their elite status for questioning yelp's business tactics, manipulation of reviews before and after yelp sales calls, and so on. Read the stories, follow the links, and see the proof.

The yelp talk section is another source of useful information. A quick search on "consumer rights" will reveal the overall anti-business sentiment on yelp, along with specific links to questionable reviews. One user (Irene S.) complains that she was threatened with legal action, and then provides a link to the dentist she gave a one star review to. In that review, she clearly admits that she is not a patient, but is writing about her fiance's experiences. Third party reviews are a violation of yelp's terms of service, yet the review has been left in place for over 18 months. Why? Because yelp's rules only apply when they benefit yelp. This is a common occurrence on yelp, and incredibly easy to prove.

Please don't waste our time with wishy-washy reporting. There is no middle of the road on this story. Business owners are up in arms, and yelp is denying everything. Dismissing this story as simple confusion on the part of business owners is lazy and irresponsible.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Heather on 03/24/2009 at 11:48 PM

Re: “Yelp Extortion Allegations Stack Up

Kathleen Richards is thus far the only reporter to take a real stand against yelp. When she was harshly criticized by Jeremy Stoppelman, she published a follow up story that smacked him right back down and shut him up. Kudos to Kathleen for that!

Most other reporters have been pretty wishy washy in their reporting of this story. One of the most annoying of those articles was written by Rachel Metz of the Associated Press. Following is a comment about that article and the irony of Rachel Metz's response to negative feedback:

Rachel Metz's article titled "Social Web Sites Face Transparency Questions" is a total disappointment. Rachel Metz took the easy way out by quoting a single business owner still stuck on the fence about yelp, and then had the nerve to suggest that the main problem with yelp is that business owners just don't get it. What a total waste of paper, bandwidth, or whatever you used to read this garbage.

But onto a more ironic and disturbing fact about this story. This article was published in the Washington Post. Many negative comments were posted on that website about Rachel Metz's lazy and totally irresponsible reporting (I know, because I wrote one).

Apparently Rachel couldn't take the heat. All comments have since been removed and there is no longer an option to post comments on that article. How incredibly convenient for Rachel.

Many business owners would like to opt out of yelp the same way Rachel opted out of any negative feedback on her article. But most of us just want a way to publicly respond to anything written about our business, and especially those reviews which are false or malicious. The only option we have is to pay yelp to protect us from the anti-business forum they created. And that is the story that Rachel Metz completely ignored and failed to report on. Shame on you, Rachel!

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Heather on 03/24/2009 at 10:32 PM

Re: “Yelp Extortion Allegations Stack Up

This is a great follow up to an already excellent story! Kathleen Richards and the East Bay Express have helped to spark a flurry of related articles and bring a voice to so many small business owners wronged by yelp. Yelp’s response to the first article was unprofessional, and a failed attempt to deflect its own faults. They took no responsibility for the problem and instead decided to attack the media and insult the small business community by insisting that we are just confused.

I’ve been following this story with great interest, and have found yelp’s defensive strategies to be amusing at best. To prove just how great yelp can be, Jeremy Stoppelman interviewed the owner of a local mattress company (see his yelp blog). That company has more than 80 reviews, a solid five star rating, and a single one star review in which the poster ultimately concludes that he will shop there anyway. The mattress company also has eight positive reviews (five and four stars) posted by infrequent yelpers (just one or two posts), so this company appears to be immune from the “algorithm” that most businesses are subjected to on yelp. Overall, it is a totally unrealistic view of a small business owner’s experience on yelp and highly suspect.

Nish Nadaraja had slammed Two in San Francisco with a two star rating and a sarcastic “thanks” for their quote in a related media article. That review has since been deleted, but it still offers proof that retaliation is not just rampant in the yelp culture, but practiced by its own management team.

It seems that somebody has since advised the folks at yelp to put a lid on their unprofessional, defensive tactics. Its financial backers are surely worried, since the only chance they have for a return on their investment is for yelp to break even and ultimately become profitable, something that is very difficult to do after infuriating your target market. Of course that doesn’t stop yelp from posting anonymous rants on sites such as this one, but their comments continue to lack merit and do absolutely nothing to help their cause.

This article has generated so much buzz around the problems with yelp that they can no longer ignore the concerns of small business owners. Whether yelp decides to fix the problems and become a credible review site or they decide to pack it all in and call it quits, the outcome will be a positive one. Kathleen Richards and the East Bay Express deserve huge thanks for helping to bring much needed change to yelp and for giving small business owners a voice.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Heather on 03/20/2009 at 1:17 PM

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