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Where Yelp! needs help

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

One Response to “Where Yelp! needs help”

evbart Says: #

Great post again! I agree on almost all points. Yelp on the whole is a great concept, as I am always looking for a new way to discover new places. The problem is execution. I feel the mapping component is not all that up to par, and I don’t know how much I value information from people I don’t trust!

Heres a post about how rss feeds really need a system that places more weight on recommendations by people that the user already trusts. In the end its the same concept here for Yelp. I need to be able to give preferences to the people that a trust, and the group at large needs to be able to pick out the reviewers that are trustyworthy considering your existing tastes.

The other issue that’s inherant with Yelp, or any other service that requires “rantings”, is that each person uses the rating system a different way. In a great article here Christopher Allen discusses the ins and outs of 5 star rating systems. Other sites like netflix suffer from the same problems.

Anyway, hope discussions like this help come up with better ways to solve these problems. The web2.0 push behind social technologies is great, but not if it just helps push a wider variety of junk information in your direction.

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