A little while ago, Greg introduced me to Yelp!, a ‘hip’ social online review site. Greg is a frequent poster, and though I signed up, I still haven’t actually added anything to the service. I’ve tried to use it a lot as a tool to find new interesting places to eat but I’ve never really taken it too seriously. The problem is – I don’t trust it. I don’t think my tastes are that sophisticated, but somehow I rarely agree with the reviewers. There is a general happy feeling about the site and that is only amplified by the lack of negative criticism. It seems that every review is attached to a four or five star rating. I’m not that picky, but I really don’t think most of the restaurants I go to deserve more than 3 stars. Are all these ratings somewhat inflated?
The first issue is that it seems that a lot of the users only tend to write about ‘fabulous’ experiences. Why would I spend the 5 minutes it takes to write a review if I didn’t really like the place or its mediocre. Also, the lack of anonymity, I think, frightens a lot of users from bashing a place that someone else gave 5 stars. Many people don’t want to disagree with people they don’t even know, or hurt anyones feelings. Sorry, but thats just stupid. If you’re really trying to build a good and trustable database of rated businesses, there needs to be real criticism. You needn’t be a professional critic to think critically about what you do and do not like about a place. I think one way this can be improved with Yelp! is prompting users when writing reviews for ratings on specific aspects of a particular service. For restaurants it would include ratings for service, atmosphere, etc. CitySearch already does something like this. I think getting users to think about the different aspects of a meal would get more critical and more trustworthy reviews.
Another way Yelp! could improve is by implementing a more sophisticated way to review reviews. They have a system in place already but basically its only for giving props and not for disagreeing. This could be used to give weight to certain reviews and less weight to others. A really advanced version of this would be if you could map your tastes against other users, creating trusted groups, etc. For example if I noticed that JayDEE4444 seemed to agree with me on most of my reviews, his reviews would be weighted higher against others in the global ratings that I would see.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I really like Yelp!, Im just giving my opinion on what would make it a lot better, and change it from something I use casually, to a service I trust, and use constantly. It has tons of potential – a youthful user base, a nice interface, and a certain factor of the elusive ‘coolness’. If anyone is listening out there in Yelp! land, don’t be afraid to criticize. I would love to see Yelp! get to a point where users could shift menu’s and get owners off their asses.
I’m planning on going on a big Yelp! rampage going through all of my local places and being as honest as possible. Keep an eye on my Yelp! feed