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Yelp Founder Says "No Extortion — Just a Misunderstood Algorithm" 120

Posted by timothy
from the trust-us-no-really dept.
Early last year, a story in the East Bay Express reported that review site Yelp's ad sales force was using hardball tactics that amount to extortion — essentially, suggesting that negative reviews would remain prominent on the Yelp page for a particular restaurant or other business, unless the business bought advertising through Yelp, in which case Yelp could "do something" about the negative reviews. In a recent interview with the New York Times (the questions seem rather softball, but they do address this issue), Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman says it just isn't so, and blames unhappiness by business owners with the review site on the site's "automated and algorithmic" review-filtering system, which he describes as "counterintuitive." Stoppelman also says that Yelp's advertising salesmen have no connection to that filtering system, which doesn't quite answer the question of whether the salesmen claimed to be able to influence the reviews displayed, as some business owners allege. Updated 22:09 GMT by timothy: As reader AKMask points out below (now corrected above), that's the East Bay Express, rather than the East Bay Examiner.
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Yelp Founder Says "No Extortion — Just a Misunderstood Algorithm"

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Only Chicao even comes close to the corruption there.

  • Sham (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DogDude (805747)
    Yelp is a sham. They'll soon be swept into the dustbin of unprofitable dot-com businesses that were born out of massive venture capital and hype, but die quietly after a few years of losing money. I'm a small business owner and I don't care about Yelp. If a business owner is so out of touch with his/her business that they don't know if they have unhappy customers, then they're doomed to failure, anyway.
    • Re:Sham (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mellon (7048) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:07PM (#31642626) Homepage

      You might want to reconsider that. My wife and I use Yelp on the iPhone as one of our primary sources of information on how to get stuff we need when we're on the road. If you're not in Yelp, you're probably missing a lot of walk-in opportunities. If you're doing well on local advertising and reputation, great, but if you'd like to have more new customers, Yelp is actually a good way to make it happen.

      The problem with services like Yelp is getting good information out of them--unfortunately, the main motivation people have for writing reviews on the web is that they are pissed off, and so that tends to work against any place that ever has a pissed off customer, which is pretty much every place. So we tend to look for patterns in the bad reviews to see what they tell us, and also patterns in the good reviews to make sure they're not fake. It's worked out pretty well for us.

      • Re:Sham (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DogDude (805747) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:11PM (#31642660) Homepage
        I'm betting that most people who are looking for reviews online are just going to use Google. It's free and ubiquitous.

        Regardless, online reviews are pretty pointless. They're anonymous and easily gamed by anybody on the planet. They're about as reliable as bathroom stall graffiti.
        • But it probably is useful primarily in highly dense urban areas like NYC (where I, too, live, using Yelp almost continuously).

        • Re:Sham (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Hatta (162192) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @05:27PM (#31643202) Journal

          Regardless, online reviews are pretty pointless. They're anonymous and easily gamed by anybody on the planet. They're about as reliable as bathroom stall graffiti.

          Do you have a better option for someone just passing through who just wants a nice place to eat? The only alternative I'm aware of is the back of the phone book. With online reviews, I can check a few sites and mostly figure out whether it's the kind of place I'm going to like. Back of the phonebook is a total crapshoot.

          • Re:Sham (Score:4, Insightful)

            by lul_wat (1623489) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @07:25PM (#31643816)
            I walk up to a local person and ask them what they would recommend. If it doesn't sound appealing then I ask the next local. It's not rocket science but it might be a bit of a leap. Most people are happy to tell you as you've asked their opinion on something and it boosts their ego to think they are a subject matter expert (which they are in this case as you know flat zero about the local food)
            • by pigphish (1070214)
              Agreed... with the added bonus of the algorithm automatically assuming you make good food (and no bad reviews) if you advertise on yelp.
            • by Shatrat (855151)
              I've literally been pointed at McDonalds before whilst doing this.
              It's pretty hit and miss depending on who you end up asking but online reviews generally point me in the right direction.
              Everywhere I've been the good places have good reviews, the bad ones have bad reviews, and the astro-turfing is childishly easy to spot because it'll be the only good review on the page.
          • I've been pretty happy with TripAdvisor.com. They don't seem to manipulate the reviews.
          • Huh? the guy said they were unreliable. Does it matter if there isn't another way? Its like calling a pile of rocks an unreliable space ship. Who cares if there isn't another way? The way we're bashing isn't a way to accomplish the necessary task.
            • by Hatta (162192)

              Unreliable means it works, just not all the time. If I have 10% success picking decent eateries out of a phone book, and 50% success picking them off of the internet, then I'm going for the internet.

        • by base3 (539820)
          I've found that when searching for reviews on Google, I see more clearly sham reviews than on Yelp. Yelp isn't perfect, but if you read it knowing they game the reviews for their paying customers and have a well-tuned bullshit detector, it can be useful in a strange city.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anachragnome (1008495)

          "They're about as reliable as bathroom stall graffiti."

          At least with the grafitti you might get a blow-job to go with that Chicken Marsala and Riesling.

        • by w32jon (1317789)

          Well, when I search for restaurant reviews on Google, I often see Yelp near or at the top of the results.

          With online reviews, I would agree with you if the establishment in question has only a handful of reviews.

          On the other hand, if I see a place with 150+ positive online reviews, it's likely that place has good food.

          Yes, there are shills, unreasonable customers, people with poor taste, not every good restaurant will be reviewed, some duds will get good reviews, etc., but it's better than having no informa

          • by genmax (990012)
            What is more, there is a number next to the reviewer's name which says how many reviews s/he has submitted. Shills are unlikely to have reviewed 120 other establishments to prop up one. Perhaps that's what they meant by an algorithm for ranking reviews ?
        • by dayton967 (647640)
          What, bathroom stall graffiti isn't reliable? Now where will I go, when I am looking for a good time?
        • I'm betting that most people who are looking for reviews online are just going to use Google. It's free and ubiquitous.

          As long as you're aware that it is a wager, and you may have backed the wrong horse. When my family was in NYC in August and Toronto last week, we used Yelp exclusively to find places to eat. We were happy with all of the places we found, and added our own reviews to the group think, not to mention duplicating them on Urbanspoon as well. Also: you're not sure what your customers are u
      • by lee1 (219161)
        Is't it time for Apple to ban Yelp from the App Store?
    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      >Yelp is a sham. They'll soon be swept into the dustbin of unprofitable dot-com businesses

      I imagine a better way to do a "review everything" site would be via a wiki or at least some kind of decentralized process with some kind of karma/voting on reviews. Sure, make money with ads, but dont try to make money with protection schemes and paid-for editing. Yelp is really a nightmare. I feel sorry for the small business person who can be destroyed by bullshit internet reviews and who is paying yelp $300 a m

    • They'll soon be swept into the dustbin of unprofitable dot-com businesses that were born out of massive venture capital and hype, but die quietly after a few years of losing money.

      You're kidding, right? Or maybe wishful thinking? Yelp has huge traffic and is quite popular. Simply a fact.

      I'm a small business owner and I don't care about Yelp.

      Than clearly you don't need any new customers.

  • maybe (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Sales people are liers. Maybe thats why.

  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:03PM (#31642576)
    Sure it is ... the businesses they were extorting misunderstood that their voluntary participation was optional.

    Advances in technology, such as our precious intertubes, will always bring advances in criminal activity. I hope no one hears them yelp as they go out of business when their next round of venture capital begging fails miserably. If they want to deal on business' reputations they'll need one of their own.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      You of all people should understand how misunderstandings happen. Maybe you read the title of something and completely disregard the content, say.

      • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:22PM (#31642748)
        The co-founder of Yelpy McScumbags denies they were acting illegally? What else would you expect him to say, "Yes, we were committing extortion, but we needed to generate more advertising, but hard work & ethical business practices just weren't getting us as much revenue as we wanted"?

        Read the original stories about Yelp's tactics and practices. I can only hope they end up with both civil judgements and criminal convictions.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Sockatume (732728)

          I expect a more nuanced response to his denial. One that might, perhaps, refute it. As it stands that comment could refer to any company except for the side-splitting double meaning of "yelp" and one word from the article title, suggesting that you have perhaps put a rash need to appear witty above the more significant issue of fraud versus innuendo and human pattern-matching.

        • by Jay L (74152)

          If Yelp's salespeople were, indeed, claiming that they could remove negative reviews - but weren't actually doing so - would that be illegal?

          Because here's what we know:

          1. We have multiple reports of businesses claiming that if they advertised, their negative reviews would be buried or hidden.
          2. Yelp themselves says their algorithm might sometimes bury or hide negative reviews (and might sometimes boost them to the top).
          3. Confirmation bias predicts we'll see business owners who bought advertising and saw f

          • by sjames (1099)

            Yes, on several counts. First of all, it's fraud. That's actually easier to prove than extortion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:06PM (#31642614)

    liars just won't fucking quit

    you quit yelp, all your reviews disappear, hows that for magic

    • by cynyr (703126)
      not to condone them, but all of that could be an automated algorithm, one that changes modifiers based on the relationship between Yelp and the thing being looked at. "ohh paying customer, subtract 4 from all of the reviews before sending them along to verify the rating(below -5 gets tossed), show only the ones that come back, and then add back the 4 we took away. ohh ex paying customer, same thing but add 4, and drop all that are not within 0+-5." Sales guys have no direct influance on that, apart from bei
  • One Mr. Corleone, respectable private citizen, wishes it to be known that there was "No Extortion - Just Big Vinny's misunderstood mood swings."
  • This is not news. (Score:5, Informative)

    by crhylove (205956) <rhy@leperkhanz.com> on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:13PM (#31642680) Homepage Journal

    Yelp has been bullshit for some time. It's a neat idea, but they've censored several of my negative reviews which were all factual.

    As such, Yelp holds no value.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jim_v2000 (818799)
      I wonder if they're trying to adjust for people's tendencies to leave a negative review more often than a positive review. In other words, if you think you got screwed, you'd be more likely to post that than if everything was fine.
      • by crhylove (205956)

        No, no, I've actually had my review completely deleted. And it was for a very shady business.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lag10 (667114)

      Yelp has been bullshit for some time. It's a neat idea, but they've censored several of my negative reviews which were all factual.

      As such, Yelp holds no value.

      This seems to be a common problem with such reviews. Fortunately, I've never seen Google Local remove any review that I've made.

    • by jrumney (197329)
      You need to find some businesses that are not advertisers to complain about if you want your negative reviews to stick around.
  • So they were not extorting, they just wrote an algorithm that does the extortion for them. Great blame game, if they hadn't written the algorithm themselves...

  • by Jawn98685 (687784) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:17PM (#31642718)
    It's not "extortion". That's such an ugly word. Clearly, there has been a misunderstanding. Yelp is merely offering "protection". You know, 'cause if youse don' have protection, t'ings coul' happen. You know, "t'ings". Maybe somebody trips and falls. Maybe a bun warmer overheats and there's a fire. Maybe people decide the food sucks and write about it. Like a whole lot'a people. You know?
    • by genner (694963)

      It's not "extortion". That's such an ugly word. Clearly, there has been a misunderstanding. Yelp is merely offering "protection". You know, 'cause if youse don' have protection, t'ings coul' happen. You know, "t'ings". Maybe somebody trips and falls. Maybe a bun warmer overheats and there's a fire. Maybe people decide the food sucks and write about it. Like a whole lot'a people. You know?

      Huh, I wonder what that means?

  • by jim_v2000 (818799) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:27PM (#31642800)
    Salespeople are the biggest fuck-ups you'll ever work with. They always make all kinds of bullshit claims about a product that you, if you the technician, will get to correct and thus take the wrath of the customer. I worked in a tech support call center a few years ago and I'd always get two or three calls each day where the customer would complain that the sales person told him that the program did X and Y, but he couldn't make it do X and Y. I would then inform him that he was misinformed and the program really did not do X and Y, and then I'd sit through a barrage of abuse directed at the company.
    • "...and then I'd sit through a barrage of abuse directed at the company."

      Sounds like you're a glutton for punishment.

      Why else would you come here to Slashdot and share your intimate moments of anguish knowing full well that you would be mocked and teased with +X Funny moderation?

    • by initialE (758110)

      To be fair you can't really tell if it's what the salesman said, or what he thought he wanted to say, or what the customer wanted to hear, or that the customer had a mental filter that blocked out all the bad parts.

  • by sweatyboatman (457800) <(sweatyboatman) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:31PM (#31642810) Homepage Journal

    My first reaction on hearing about the lawsuits against Yelp was to lump it in with the idea of suing Google because you don't like your search position. But the more I read from the Yelp side of this, the shadier their practices seem. And this article, while pretty fluffy, did nothing to improve Yelp's standing in my eyes.

    In fact, it made me think that beyond everything else, Yelp just doesn't get it. Stoppelman sure doesn't:

    When a consumer encounters a business’s page, the reviews they’re seeing aren’t necessarily every review that’s been written about the business. It’s a selection of those reviews. It ensures that the consumer sees generally useful, trustworthy information that gives them a good idea of what to expect when they patronize that business.

    So they have an "algorithm" that randomly and seemingly arbitrarily changes what reviews are visible on a business's page. Great, I am sure there are plenty of other sites that follow a similar approach. But there's nothing in there about any kind of system to ensure that their "algorithm" isn't abusive. There's no mention of oversight, nor of feedback. It'd be interesting to hear a general outline of how this "algorithm" does its thing.

    Of course, he follows up with this:

    The more that we explain about the algorithm, the less effective it becomes.

    Which makes it sound like either the "algorithm" isn't all that complicated or they don't exactly know how the algorithm works and they fired the guy who wrote it. On second thought, this just makes it sounds like they're making the whole "algorithm" thing up. Maybe "the algorithm" is twenty interns sitting in the basement sifting through reviews about coffee houses and dry cleaners.

    Any way I think about it, I cannot imagine using their service or trusting the reviews I read on Yelp.

    • by droopycom (470921) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @04:54PM (#31642966)

      Of course, he follows up with this:

      The more that we explain about the algorithm, the less effective it becomes.

      Doesn't Google does the same thing with their pagerank algorithm ?

      When people know too much about the algorithm, they can game it.

      Same reason why credit scoring company wont release their algorithms... Well, they might have further economic motives for that, but still if I knew exactly how the algorithm for my credit score worked, I could certainly dramatically improve my credit without doing anything that actually show I'm credit worthy...

      • by 10101001 10101001 (732688) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @05:37PM (#31643268) Journal

        When people know too much about the algorithm, they can game it.

        Same reason why credit scoring company wont release their algorithms... Well, they might have further economic motives for that, but still if I knew exactly how the algorithm for my credit score worked, I could certainly dramatically improve my credit without doing anything that actually show I'm credit worthy...

        The fundamental problem is that such algorithms are based on taking a small bit of information and extrapolating a result from it. It's fundamentally the reason why benchmarks are often both gamed and a very bad way of actually understanding the products being measured. The answer to the problem has consistently been shown to be not to withhold information about the way a benchmark is made, since invariably people will find a way to reverse engineer the algorithm and game it anyways; the answer is to further refine the benchmark to take more and more samples until the point that even if the benchmark is incomplete at measuring things, anything that tried to game the benchmark would still be very close to meeting what the benchmark is meant to represent.

        AFAIK, that's primarily what Google has done with the page ranking algorithm. If Yelp is really worried about having a good review system, they should focus less on trying to hide how their algorithm works and more on improving their algorithm to guarantee it works. In the end, they'll remain ahead of any competitors so long as they can maintain a consistent lead on quality through such efforts. Any other mindset really is based in a belief that one has some sort of monopoly that can't be replaced. It's one of the reasons why complacent middle management, which is primarily a byproduct of large corporations, kills most corporate monopolies.

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        People do know in general terms how credit scores work. In the UK it tends to work as follows:

        You get points for:
        Being on the electoral register
        Having a landline telephone
        Having a history of paying off previous credit agreements on time
        Being married
        Being at your current address for a number of years
        Being employed, and having been in your current job for a number of years
        Owning the property you live in

        You lose points for:
        Having a history of defaults on credit agreements, court judgements, bankruptcy, etc
        Bei

        • by TheMidget (512188)

          Having a landline telephone

          Seriously? You get points for being technologically backwards?

          Being married

          And what if you're not allowed to?

          Being at your current address for a number of years

          Being employed, and having been in your current job for a number of years

          So, leading a boring life is bonus points too?

    • I use Yelp all the time, and I've found great restaurants and other services through there. As for the reviews, it's just like Amazon, you get a gerneral consensus with the average rating, and then you read a couple positive reviews, a couple negatives ones, and then make up your mind based on them. I don't understand how a shady algorithm would make you trust Yelp reviews any less because of their display algorithm

  • East Bay EXPRESS (Score:1, Informative)

    by AKMask (843456)
    Not the East Bay Examiner. Writer was thinking about the San Francisco Examiner, which did not run the story.
  • Thin Skins (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fm6 (162816) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @05:03PM (#31643028) Homepage Journal

    I can't be bothered to dig up the link, but there was a story about a restaurant in San Francisco that was so mad at Yelp they had all their employees wear satirical shirts. I looked up that restaurant's Yelp page, and discovered a large number of extremely positive reviews and the usual comments by people who hate everything. All in all, Yelp is a big driver of business for these people. Some people just go ballistic at the slightest hint of criticism.

    One thing that does bug me about Yelp is the way people suddenly develop enthusiasms for businesses of limited merit. Three or four times I've gone out for lunch based on Yelp reviews and been a little puzzled as to what all the fuss was about. One was a Halal [ifanca.org] restaurant that serves OK food, but is a little on the pricey side for what they serve. (Following religious law in food preparation drives up the overhead a bit.) Needless to say, the staff are a little confused by this sudden influx of non-Muslim customers!

    • by petsounds (593538)
      Yelp is a bit like government. It may be corrupt to a lesser or greater degree, but occasionally it's quite useful. I was just in NYC, and being vegan it was quite helpful in finding good restaurants in short order.
      • by fm6 (162816)

        You're talking as a given that Yelp is corrupt. I don't think it is, and the whole point of TFA is that Yelp claims they're not.

        • by petsounds (593538)
          No. Yelp's level is corruption resides from 0 to 1. I know not the level, and didn't mean to imply as such. My point was, regardless of alleged corruption it has been pretty useful to me, while you seemed to infer it is not.
          • by fm6 (162816)

            You mean imply [cjr.org]. And I implied no such thing. One can be critical of a web site and still find it useful. And in fact I use Yelp a lot.

            • by petsounds (593538)
              Yes, yes. Imply. My brain virus was typing for me. The following quote is what I based my comment on. Anyway, this is a ridiculous thread to spend time on. "One thing that does bug me about Yelp is the way people suddenly develop enthusiasms for businesses of limited merit. Three or four times I've gone out for lunch based on Yelp reviews and been a little puzzled as to what all the fuss was about."
    • by spasm (79260)

      It was Delfina's Pizza in San Francisco. And they weren't merely satirical, they actually used the most negative reviews they could find on yelp about their pizzeria. http://www.7x7.com/blogs/bits-bites/yelp-tee-almost-more-brilliant-pizzeria-delfinas-pizza [7x7.com]

      Part of the point being that Delfina's pizza is a little side-store to Delfina's, the high-end, beloved of serious foodies restaurant, and the pizza is similarly well regarded - yelp reviewers giving it poor reviews were essentially demonstrating that t

      • by fm6 (162816)

        Did you miss the part where I mentioned that most of the reviews were positive? In any case, not liking the same things that foodies like doesn't make you an idiot.

  • Based on a visit I made to a Yelp-popular breakfast restaurant a month ago, I don't think Yelp is tailoring the reviews for favorable restaurants. I went there when I visited Chicago for the first time because newspaper articles and Yelp alike were hailing their pancakes as the best in town, and I love breakfast more than anything. I was extremely disappointed with the quality of their food (which was a basic omelet and pancake breakfast; kind of hard for a popular restaurant like theirs to screw up), and w

    • by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Saturday March 27, 2010 @06:23PM (#31643484)

      Weeks later, the review is still up, along with other similarly low-rated reviews.

      Maybe, or maybe not; Yelp's filter always shows reviews to their authors, even if hiding them from everyone else.

      • by base3 (539820)
        Ooh--that's evil. I've never left a review (I check out Yelp, keeping in mind the possibility of pay-for-play and adjusting my expectations accordingly.) If I ever do post one, I'll be sure and check it out from another IP with a different browser, cookies, etc.
      • by MrCrassic (994046)

        Good point, but considering that my review got two acknowledgments and an equally long and damning review is one of the first listed, I don't think they're filtering (this restaurant).

        Link: read [yelp.com]

  • He's lying (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2010 @05:32PM (#31643228)

    He's not even bending the truth. Yelp is a scam for business owners. The sales people can and do influence the ratings directly. I've personally seen this with my business's reviews and have talked to Yelp sales people.

    I had 5, 5 star reviews, got a 6th review with 4 stars, amazingly about a week after that review, I got a call from a Yelp sales person saying that he's taken care of that review and if I'd like that to continue that it would cost me $300/month (their lowest cost plan). That payment would also keep my competitor's information from being displayed on my page when visited.

    I blew them off yet again and that 4 star review showed back up.

    I like the concept, but Yelp would only be useful if it wasn't a company trying to generate revenue for themselves standing behind it. A "community based" review system will only work if

    1) people can't post anonymously or if they can then negative or positive anonymous reviews don't hold much weight

    2) there is a review system in place to dispute slanderous claims.

    3) there isn't a company behind the system trying to make a buck off of selling advertising.

    and probably a 1/2 dozen or more other things in place. Nothing is perfect, but Yelp is useless if you want honest reviews about a business and that business happens to be a paying customer of Yelp.

    • He's not lying (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2010 @09:28PM (#31644478)

      Hi. I'm an engineer at Yelp. I know for a fact that salespeople cannot influence reviews in any way. They have no access to the internal Yelp administration pages; they use a separate Salesforce site for doing their work. In fact, they are not even allowed to post reviews to the site.

      Obviously I did not hear the conversation you had with the Yelp salesperson, but it would be VERY surprising if they suggested they could influence your reviews. Every new Yelp advertiser gets an orientation call within days of signing up for advertising. As part of this call the advertiser's account manager goes over the fact that advertising does not influences reviews in any way. If a salesperson were suggesting that they could influence reviews, the account manager would find out during this call and that salesperson would be fired. See this blog post for more information: http://officialblog.yelp.com/2010/03/additional-thoughts-on-last-weeks-lawsuit-or-how-a-conspiracy-theory-is-born-.html

      As to your other points:
      1) The entire purpose of the review filter is to make untrusted reviews hold less weight: http://officialblog.yelp.com/2010/03/yelp-review-filter-explained.html
      2) You can respond both privately and publicly to reviews of your business: http://www.yelp.com/business/review_response
      3) I think that we can make a useful site and use advertising revenue to pay for our meals. At least Google has managed this feat, so it is not impossible.

      We try really hard to make Yelp a useful/funny/cool site that balances the needs of both business owners and consumers. We definitely don't always make everyone happy, but we are always listening to feedback and trying to make things better.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by pigphish (1070214)
        Could you please remove the following statement from your code:

        if (avertiserFee > 300) then BadReview = NULL else GoodReview = NULL
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The entire purpose of the review filter is to make untrusted reviews hold less weight

        So why do you remove some legitimate negative reviews entirely?

        Move them to the bottom of the list, if you must, but don't delete legitimate content, EVER.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          So why do you remove some legitimate negative reviews entirely?

          Move them to the bottom of the list, if you must, but don't delete legitimate content, EVER.

          The problem is that it is impossible to algorithmically to determine what is "legitimate" content, especially in the face of people paying others to write reviews [typepad.com]. We have made the choice to be conservative about what is considered legitimate. I wasn't the one who made this decision, but it seems like the right one to me. Given the generally low signal to noise ratio of the internet it's probably best that automated filters to be as aggressive as possible.

          We also have to be concerned about giving away to

          • I wasn't the one who made this decision

            The problem is, neither was I (as a user).

            If anyone thinks they can write a better algorithm, we are hiring.

            Post everything, under the assumption that your users aren't total idiots who need to be protected from themselves.

            Security by (algorithmic) obscurity only rewards the ones who guess how the algorithm works. It's a lot easier to game Yelp than to game Google, because the problem domain is so much narrower.

      • Hi, I've worked in two restaurants that have been extorted by yelp salespeople. Also, I'm friends with managers of other restaurants and bars that have had similar experience. Your salespeople consistently claim to be able to get rid of unwanted reviews. They tend to call with a pitch that starts with something like "So I see you got a 2 star review on your page, wouldn't you rather that wasn't the first thing your potential customers saw when they research your business?"

  • That Times story is incredibly self serving for 'Yelp'. The questions asked are phrased in ways so that the answer can only be positive to or about 'Yelp'. Furthermore this reads more like an informational advertisement than actual reporting. Im kinda disappointed that I wasted my time reading the f***ing article, since it offered no information whatsoever about why their salesmen have had the finger pointed at them, nor does it even directly inquire what their 'sales' campaign actually involves. BS story I
  • If you listen to the owner of Yelp and their PR people, every time they have an interview or talk to the press, the whole Yelp crew sounds like they've been taking private bullshitting lessons from Darl McBride over at SCO. Over the past couple years, there have been many, many, accounts from businesses that have been involved with Yelp's "marketing practices" that all have pretty much the same story about a Yelp "account executive" have either inferred or directly stated that negative reviews would not be
    • by bmo (77928)

      the whole Yelp crew sounds like they've been taking private bullshitting lessons from Darl McBride

      Without even knowing the technical stuff behind yelp, this is exactly what sets off my bullshit meter. Ever since I've heard about yelp, I've never found anything redeeming about it.

      To go off on your tangent, the jury restarts deliberation on Tuesday. It should be interesting to see how they handle "copyright must be transfered in writing."

      --
      BMO

  • Highway robbery (Score:5, Informative)

    by yerktoader (413167) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @06:55PM (#31643678) Homepage
    I know a gent from Vietnam who runs a small restaurant. Super nice dude. He directly and flatly stated Yelp told him they would make the negative reviews prominent and fake more if he didn't cough up the dough. He could be lying, but what would he gain by telling a random customer?

    Fuck Yelp and it's snobby yuppie fans.
    • I was going to post exactly the same thing!
       
      ... but Yelp decided it would "cooperate" with me, so I won't say anything. For now.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We own a small business which depends heavily on Yelp for traffic (as in, our business doubled when Yelp came around). This is good. What isn't good is the subtle attempts and bullying that have come from the Yelp salesteam. We get calls every few months from salespeople making obvious comments about "controlling our image" and other such things -- and amazingly every time we turn them down we find that many of our positive reviews are removed from the system with no explanation. We currently have 5 5-s

  • I'm suspicious (Score:2, Interesting)

    We saw a restaurant on Yelp that had great reviews. We went to that restaurant and it was completely empty. Right after we sat down the waitress asked us where we heard of the restaurant. I don't like to answer questions like that, so I said nothing. My dining companion also kept silent. Immediately, the waitress asked us if we heard about the restaurant through Yelp. We nodded yes.

    The food at that restaurant was lousy. I am very suspicious about that encounter. Of course, I can't draw any conclusions fr
  • Like www.foodaroo.com! Way better in that it is open and anyone can add anything. Sadly not much on it :(
  • by sohp (22984) <snewton.io@com> on Saturday March 27, 2010 @07:59PM (#31644014) Homepage

    looks something like this:


    if (business_has_paid_for_ad) {
        review_minimum_threshold = 5;
    } else {
        review_minimum_threshold = -1;
    }

    • That algorithm is correct but they fired the guy who wrote it and now don't have any clue how to fix it.

      And consultants would charge waaaay too much.
  • by m509272 (1286764)

    I've read way too many posts in so many different places that Yelp is an extortion game at the least. Numerous people have written that their posts of negative reviews have either never appeared on Yelp or disappeared in a day or so. They even reposted a bad review and that too disappeared. That along with numerous restaurant owners claiming Yelp reps have visited them promising to make bad things "go away" are just too many to ignore. This latest claim of an "algorithm" is just absolutely absurd. Hope

  • If you live in an area covered by Yelp, ask the owners of the next 10 small businesses that you patronize whether they've heard from Yelp and what they thought of their sales pitch. You'll hear the same story over and over.
  • if you can't give good service, then have your employees write nice reviews on yelp. no, i don't want the system to be gamed, but there's going to be people doing it.

    my former landlord SCREWED ME for $1000 by taking my rent money then changing the locks on the doors and not letting me back into the place even though all my shit was there. so HELL YEAH i posted a negative review in yelp. they could give me my FUCKING MONEY BACK those dirtbags. the cops said it was a civil matter, not a criminal one, so for m

  • This interview was from within a few months of the East Bay Express expose "CEO Jeremy Stoppelman talks about the online review site's success, and how often he's asked to remove bad reviews." Part 1: http://www.pressheretv.com/?cat=1&subcat=1&video=87 [pressheretv.com] Part 2: http://www.pressheretv.com/?cat=1&subcat=1&video=89 [pressheretv.com]
  • Does anyone here remember when Yelp was first starting up? They used UCE/Spam to advertize themselves. My personal account got three or four duplicates across several of my aliases, which told me at the time that they had been using harvested addresses.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    So where on yelp.com can write a review on yelp.com?
  • Jeremy is right, that algorithm is so convoluted and complicatedly random that they COULDN'T rig the votes, even if they wanted to. Nobody understands how it works anymore. BUT the story is right too... The sales people DO make those claims.

The reason that every major university maintains a department of mathematics is that it's cheaper than institutionalizing all those people.

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