by Lydia Zhang
It’s not a crime to have an opinion. However, because of Internet privacy, those who post their opinions in the form of comments and reviews do not have to take responsibility for what they write, which isn’t filtered for honesty and tactfulness. So is a site like Yelp, where people write reviews about the businesses they visit, necessarily a good thing? The lack of moderation and questionable expertise of reviewers combined with the site’s high rate of traffic can noticeably affect the local stores and restaurants negatively, especially if the store or restaurant is newly opened. This presents an issue for many businesses in the area whose success already depends largely on luck and publicity. One bad review seen by many can ruin a deserving business.
Type in a local company into any search engine, and one of the first links will almost always be from Yelp. It’s difficult to say whether or not people really do take the site’s reviews seriously, but it’s clear that the site is popular. In the last year, Yelp’s traffic has increased to over 22 million, beating out competitors like Citysearch.
Yelp only moderates the reviews that are posted on site for maliciousness, such as a rival businesses posting one-star reviews just to eliminate competition, or which show obvious bias, like five-star reviews coming from fake users. The moderation system sees how active an account is and then decides whether the reviews coming from the account should be deemed as spam or legitimate. However, this arrangement does not stop a good proportion of the reviews on the site from being confusing and contradictory, which is primarily because there is such a large pool of commentators with varying opinions and no set standard for what is “good” and “bad.”
Miyo Yogurt’s Yelp page has reviews which were highly polarized regarding the business’ service. For example, one reviewer wrote that the employees were “always super friendly and keep the place spotless,” while another asserted that as she walked into the shop, she was “only greeted with smugness and a cold stare.” Whether or not either of these claims are true, the fact is many of the opinions expressed by the reviews directly contradict one another (such as the quality of yogurt, service, cleanliness, etc.). These reviews do not convey an accurate sense of what the business is like. After going to the establishment, it was clear that on certain days, the service was perfectly fine, the tables were spotless, and the yogurt had a perfect consistency. However, it just shows how unreliable the reviews and posts found on Yelp can be. The whole point of Yelp is to help the browser get a sense of the business based upon the experiences of previous clientele, and moderation of fledging reviewers would make the site much more efficient and helpful.
Yelp has also been sued numerous times in the last few years, primarily relating to the site’s business dealings. According to USA Today, Yelp has been accused of taking indirect bribes by removing bad reviews from the sites that advertise on Yelp and placing negative reviews back on to the pages of local services that choose not to advertise. If companies like Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital and D’ames Day Spa are willing to go to court against Yelp because the site is manipulating what reviews are posted, then it is likely that one or two negative reviews from Yelp really do affect their business. Reviews that are negative and not constructive in any way should be filtered out in order to streamline the site.
Yelp, however, is a really convenient and hassle-free way to get information regarding local services and businesses. It in its entirety is not bad, but it is necessary that the site changes the way it operates. More moderation of the reviews is definitely vital. To post assessments, reviewers should go through a longer process that is more vigorous than just giving an e-mail address and selecting a business to review. It isn’t helpful to the browser if every other evaluation contradicts the previous one and if posters use phrases like “super noobsauce: -1000000 points.”