Doubting Yelp. Defecting to Rummble Beta.

September 25, 2008 by Lisa Oshima | Mobile, Social Media

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:

Hi Lisa,

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:

Hi Lisa,

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:

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: socialmediablog@gmail.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.

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  • Hey Lisa

    I use Qype.com for all my reviews these days.

    I'm not in the States any more (I'm ex SF living in London, UK right now) but they have pretty good coverage and I've noticed a few ex-Yelpers on there. Let me know how you get on with Rummble, I signed up but just haven't got round to using it yet.

  • Excellent post. You raise some very important points:

    1. Users require information be complete, NO loss of data.

    – Poor SPAM filters, faulty Search engines, Unrefreshed listings, or even just 'pay to see if we have the info' is extremely frustrating for end users.

    2. Social Media data must be treated with respect.

    – This data is extremely personal, even when we are sharing it with others. Users put their reputation on the line, and invest major effort and time. They get upset when their photos, opinions, conversations, etc. are held hostage or tossed out like yesterday's trash.

    3. If you run a 'Service' you better have real 'Customer Service'.

    – The more discerning your customers (ie. the ones who would use a Recommendation service), the more they recognize issues and make choices. If you don't make a personal connection with them, if you don't listen to their complaints, they will go somewhere else.

    4. The market always adapts.

    – One beauty of Social Media is that no one holds a monopoly on what is expressed there. As we can see, even as Yelp shoots itself in the foot, there is still Rumble, and if there wasn't Rummble, then there are dozens of other sources of valid recommendations that users can migrate to over time.

    5. Social Media need Users, more than Users need Social Media

    – Communities, Consumers and Businesses (and perhaps other groups) are all potential Users of a Social Media system. These Users can exist without Social Media, but Social Media cannot exist without these Users. When a Social Media system places its own needs above its User's needs, that system will soon find itself short on users, fading to irrelevance, and eventually, out of existence.

  • Charlie M.

    In regards to the post about Yelp removing reviews – I've been having exactly the same problem, and I think I'm moving on as well. Yelp seems to be saying that it's impossible for anyone to really have a very positive or negative experience at a business. The fact that my reviews (and others) are being screened out defeats the purpose of a “social” site. When I go to the page for a business, I want to see all reviews, positive and negative. It's annoying because the site has wasted my time – I spent the effort writing reviews, but they aren't going to post them.

  • Dan D.

    Yea, mine was removed too. For once, I honestly put in writing how i feel about a business. It was fair and humorous, but true. I really think they are afraid of a lawsuit, even on true, but negative yelps? Actually, a great idea for a website-I thought at the time. Maybe i'll start my own Yelp-i have nothing to loose.

  • Thanks for the tip, Duncan. I do like Rummble. I've been using it for a while. The only issue is that its new, so there aren't tons of reviews yet. That will improve in time.

    Ryan Kuder referenced my post on his blog today… He offers some great thoughts about how to fix review sites: http://www.ryankuder.com/2008/09/how-to-fix-rev…. Ryan talks about creating affinity. I like Rummble because it does just that by showing you recommendations from your implied trust network. They have an algorithm that gives you a 'trusted network' of people who have written similar reviews to you or have provided reviews you trust.






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