Letters for March 25 

Readers sound off on Yelp and our theater, art, and food reviews.

"Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0," Feature, 2/18

The Irony of Yelp

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman replied to Kathleen Richards' story via his Yelp corporate blog. Following his own business model, shouldn't he voicelessly absorb the story's comments without response? Or maybe he should advertise in the East Bay Express and be afforded the opportunity to pick a feature story on Yelp?

Devin Leaf, Oakland

Yelp Lacks Web Cred

I agree with what Kathleen Richards had to say in the cover article on the untrustworthiness of Yelp. Increasingly in a Web 2.0 world we are being asked to trade in our time and thought labor and, to some extent, our privacies and participate in crowd-sourcing in exchange for the benefits of mass open-sharing. Yelpers digitally sharecrop a market for banner ads and commerce for a range of businesses (and Yelp); all that is hoped for in return is reliable and useful information that can save time and money or increase the odds that we'll get what we are willing to pay for. I'd like to know that when I Yelp a business, I will be able to trust the ranking and recommendations that appear on the web site, free from the extorted or otherwise coerced actions of anyone. In return, I am willing to offer to other Yelpers what they might expect from a business based on my experience. But in my own experience, Yelp consistently removes bad reviews. One that I posted after a bad stay at a New York hotel more than a year ago disappeared soon after I posted it. I reposted it again. (Just try Yelping the Avalon Hotel in NYC and read the reviews. Also search for it on Yahoo travel. Most likely you'll see nothing on Yelp, and eighteen reviews, mine included, on Yahoo.) After the second review came missing on Yelp, I realized that someone there had squelched my negative review, twice. Yelp has broken the cardinal rule of Web 2.0. They are anything but transparent in their practices and the result is a major loss of web-cred.

Peggy MacLeod, Oakland

I Don't Trust Them

Your article is well written, and evidently the research was extensive. Thank you for that, the true vision of investigative journalism!

There's NO WAY that I'd use Yelp, in light of this situation. I cannot believe that "Bill Blackburn of San Francisco" thinks he would — shame on him! No, actually he'll deserve getting duped, and it's sure to happen.

As far as referrals, I only trust the ones from people I actually know. That makes all of the unknown and anonymous reviewers simply irrelevant to me, in fact, unread by me. Sorry, that goes for the blogosphere as well! Who are these people, anyhow? One must always consider the source, when weighing an opinion.

For that matter, I don't know you, either. Here's the difference — you've got an editor, who works for a publication that I've been reading for long enough that I've developed a certain level of trust in the East Bay Express. So, even though I don't know you, I do trust EBX, and that's the crucial difference.

I rarely use Yelp, there's too much trash up there anyhow. Most often, I use Yahoo! Local. Sorry Googlers, I never use it, because their algorithm's too mysterious for me, and their revenue motivation is too heavy.

David Leland, Oakland

We Take Yelping Seriously

I tend not to believe your article about Yelp, simply because I don't think it could happen here in Denver. Why? Because so many Yelpers know business owners and word would get out. Perhaps it's because we are more tightly knit here, but I tend to assume the same conditions are present in other markets and local Yelpers wherever would speak out. I just joined Yelp last year and am Yelp Elite this year, so am not a longstanding member but I do take an interest. I know most/all Denver Yelpers take the "Real people, real reviews" tagline seriously, and we even look into businesses that appear to be misusing the site, be it by faking reviews, or soliciting them.

David Steinle, Denver

Learn a Lesson

Holy cow! The fact that most of the people interviewed for this article are using fake names is ridiculous. It's like a witness protection program where these people are afraid of having their business "torched" by Yelp. Perhaps the lessons learned here are some of the shortcomings of the Internet and to start thinking for themselves again. What a concept: Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

Matthew Hanagan, San Francisco

Rebuttals Would Boost Value

Very interesting scenario. I think it deserves further reflection. As someone who has built user-generated Web 2.0 solutions, I understand the challenges Yelp faces.

Keep in mind — all these wonderful services that we rely on — unless they can turn a profit — will die. Of course, that doesn't justify shady practices, and I am sure even if Yelp is completely clean, this article will prompt them into more rigorous checks-and-balances — which in my opinion is the biggest value of an article like this.

In terms of the actual content, certainly removing or demoting negative reviews doesn't make sense to me, advertiser or not. I think a good solution is to support comment threads for each review, letting the businesses comment on each review. As a consumer, if I see a negative review, and next to it a rebuttal by the business, it's more content and more value when considering that business. This is a feature that I implemented in the community-based Web 2.0 site for a large corporation. Business would be motivated to rebut any negative reviews — let them have their day in this "virtual court." And in fact Yelp can charge for letting business come in and be identified as the business owner and be able to rebut. Get everything out in the open — transparency is value!

Gary Chevsky, Palo Alto

"Good Grief," Theater, 2/18

Hurwitt was My Co-Pilot

I am a longtime East Bay Express reader and frequent Bay Area theatergoer who sees 2-3 plays per month. I noticed Sam Hurwitt's goodbye in the most recent issue, and I am extremely disappointed by your decision to stop running his theater reviews in the paper. Mr. Hurwitt's astute and thoughtful reviews helped me decide which East Bay theatrical productions were worth my time and money. Please let him know that he'll be missed, and I hope the Express reconsiders its decision.

Sue Trowbridge, Alameda

You Messed Up

I know times are tough all around. But the East Bay Express done fucked up by letting go of Sam Hurwitt. As a director of a local company, I could never depend on a positive review from Sam (though I have received them) — but I could always depend on a review that was honest, fair, clear, and showed an impressive ability to see what I tried to do in a larger historical and artistic context. Many American cities with bigger, more active theater communities don't have reviewers this good. You've done a great disservice to the Bay Area arts scene at a time when we need people like Sam to communicate our work to our audiences. And you've done a great disservice to your publication, boiling down all live arts coverage to a single voice, as if one writer could possibly communicate the diversity of live art-making happening here. Is that what the East Bay Express wants to stand for?

Maya Gurantz, Temescal Labs, Oakland

"Flesh and Izakaya at Ozumo Oakland," Food & Drink, 2/18

Lost in Translation

Reading John Birdsall's review of Ozumo, it seems he's confusing "izakaya," which means a kind of neighborhood drinking and eating place very common in Japan, with the typical tapas-like dishes themselves. In Japanese, the suffix "-ya" denotes "place" or establishment. "Stick to the izakaya" doesn't really have any meaning, aside from "go to this kind of place," nor does the title of the review.

Sandy Rothman, Berkeley

"Transracial Like Us," Museums and Galleries, 2/11

Black Art Doesn't Have to Be Black

As usual art "critics" from KB (Kenneth Baker) on down to DeWitt Cheng continually try to fit "Black Artists" into the age-old box of having to represent themselves in figurative form. It seems that if they do not show "their face" they are not really Black Artists, and certainly not artists. There were other works that go beyond the face and search for a deeper meaning, or perhaps the critics are still stuck in the past. Black Art is not simply about showing black images.

Renee Heider, Oakland


In our spring dining supplement Taste, we improperly credited the photograph of Josh Levine of Pepple's Donuts. It was by Sonya Revell.


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