Yelp burned a bridge with me this week, and I’m defecting to the Rummble beta. Rummble is London-based mobile + web 2.0 start-up that provides geographically relevant recommendations and reviews from likeminded people.
My frustration with Yelp started when I got an email from my dentists’ office… Earlier this year, I wrote a glowing review of my dentists, a fantastic couple who took over the practice from my former dentist when he retired. Noticing that mine was the first Yelp review anyone had written of the new practice, I emailed my dentists to thank them for their great work and let them know about my review. They replied thanking me for my review. After my latest visit, I got an email from one of my dentists, checking in to make sure that I was happy because they noticed that my positive Yelp review was no longer posted on Yelp.com. I went online to look, and sure enough, while I could see the review on my page, it didn’t appear in the public view. There was only one other review listed – also a 5 star positive review.
Bewildered by why my review was removed, I re-posted it again, and it appeared in public view. I then emailed Yelp to ask what happened. In the note, I explained that I wasn’t a spammer, but rather a social media blogger with a positive track record of contributing to online communities. I received the following response:
Thanks for contacting Yelp about your reviews.
Yelp has a system that automatically determines which reviews show for a given business. Just as your Yahoo or Gmail email account doesn’t deliver every email (spam, etc.), we don’t show every review. This protects both business owners (by suppressing reviews that may have been written by a malicious competitor, for example) and consumers (by suppressing reviews that may have a definitive bias, having been written by owners or their friends). It’s important to note that these reviews are not deleted (they are always shown on the user’s public profile) and may reappear on the business-listing page in the future.
I wondered how my review could have been “automatically” removed by Yelp. I am not a spammer. I have only written a handful of carefully written Yelp reviews, and none of them feature spam-worthy words like “lumberjack”, “rolex”, or “viagra”. If someone like me (thoughtful reviewer with a track record of social media involvement) was ‘automatically’ screened out by their system, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of reviews I was missing out on when I used Yelp to discover new places. I was also frustrated because I took the time to write a review to help the ‘Yelp’ community, and yet, no one in the community could see it. The worst part is that I felt like my relationship with one of my favorite service providers was compromised by Yelp’s “automatic” screening system, when my dentist was left wondering whether I’d removed the review on purpose.
I wanted to keep liking and using Yelp, so I replied asking what would have ‘flagged’ my reviews to their spam filter. I asked if was possible to get my review re-instated to Yelp at large. Here’s their response:
Thanks for taking the time to write us again.
While we can’t evaluate individual cases or re-instate specific reviews, we certainly appreciate your feedback and are continually striving to improve the user experience.
We recognize that this explanation may prove frustrating, but we hope you understand that our efforts and actions are geared toward increasing the overall trustworthiness of Yelp as a place for people to share local knowledge.
Thanks again for caring enough to contact us and for trying to make Yelp better for everyone.
I was disappointed by Yelp’s refusal to evaluate individual cases or explain their filtering criteria. Yelp acknowledged using an unreliable system to screen out ‘spam’. Yet, they wouldn’t explain how their filtering ‘system’ worked. At the end of the day, I was more annoyed by Yelp’s explanation than their removal of my review.
Isn’t the whole point of an online community to allow every user to provide their input and have others flag abuses of the system?! Wikipedia has a vibrant community and manages to keep its users relatively honest through community policing.
Reading Yelp’s response, I couldn’t help but imagine the customer service agent shrugging her shoulders, sticking out her tongue and making a facetious “I dunno” face. The image inspired me to do a little research about other’s experiences with Yelp. So, I Googled “Yelp complaints” to see what came up. Here are a couple of interesting articles on the subject:
- On September 19, 2008, CBS 5 reported, “Business Owners Raise More Complaints About Yelp”
- On August 13, 2008, The Register wrote, “Yelp ‘Pay to Play’ Pitch Makes Shops Scream for Help” claiming, “Over the last year, five San Francisco Bay Area businesses have told The Register that the company has offered to “push bad reviews to the bottom” of their Yelp pages if they paid to advertise on the site.”
- In July, 2008, TechCrunch wrote, “Angry Businesses Organize Anti-Yelp Websites. This Is A Sure Sign Of Their Success”:
Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said recently in the NY Times, “We put the community first, the consumer second and businesses third.” Their goal is clearly to make businesses need Yelp, but not to expect a lot of help when it comes to disputes. Complain all you want, you’re just proving that you need Yelp more than they need you.
My recent experience makes me doubt Yelp’s assertion that it puts community first. Until I have a reason to change my mind, I’m boycotting Yelp. Instead, I’ll be using Rummble, and encouraging others to turn it into a vibrant and unfettered online community that allows users to share geographically relevant recommendations from likeminded people. One of the coolest parts is that it allows you to get not only local recommendations but national and international recommendations from your network – a useful bonus for frequent travellers. If you want to join in, add me as a friend on Rummble (username: “socialmedia”, email: email@example.com).
I’m curious to hear about your experiences with Yelp. If you’re not a Vox member, feel free to email me your comments, and I’ll post them manually.