YelpAs we watch the Web move off the desktop and into all aspects of people’s lives thanks to the growing ubiquity of smartphones, the overlap between on- and offline life begins to blur. The advent of GPS and mobile applications bring with them yet another new breed of social application, one focused more on integrating with day-to-day life than being tethered to a laptop or desktop.

Take Yelp for example. It’s been around for awhile but is still relatively fresh on most people’s radar. Its basic idea of a socially-based hub for reviews of local businesses rapidly blossomed when smartphones entered the mix. With the addition of iPhone and Android apps allowing people to “check in” at their favorite establishments, a level of real-time interactivity was inaugurated. One that, according to an announcement from the Yelp HQ, will soon be augmented by a new layer of service which allows establishments to offer special deals to those who check in.

Of course, the idea of user-generated reviews is one that is not hugely popular among many of those being reviewed. As a matter of fact, a ruling has just been handed down in a case against Yelp that started in 2009. Wendy Davis at MediaPost reports:

Handing a victory to review site Yelp, a California court ruled that a pediatric dentist’s lawsuit over a bad review should have been thrown out under a state law aimed at protecting people’s right to discuss matters of public interest.

Of course, while the courts may be coming down of Yelp’s side, the recipients of its user reviews are often not exactly happy with the new state of affairs. When Chef Scott Parker of the Denver restaurant Table 6 shared his unvarnished opinion (not exactly what I would advise as a good PR move), the response was negative and predictable — Internet vengence in the form of a flood of bad reviews. Elina Shatkin, a blogger for the LA Weekly, brings us the text of his now legendary comment [Note: I have edited the original’s profanity]:

Amateur instant online restaurant critics — specifically those who write reviews for a website that rhymes with ‘kelp.’ Think about it: They review a McDonald’s and then turn around and review Mizuna. I just imagine bored, jobless layabouts with not many friends who are convinced that they’re going to have a bad time before they even step through the door of a joint. The kicker is, you can’t respond to these inbreds and try to educate, or at least explain, why some things happen the way they happen. Have a little fun, for chrissakes. Loosen up when you go out, and let me be the stress ball in the kitchen busting my ass for twelve-plus hours trying to make you the best food I can. F**k you!

Just a little hot under the collar, eh? For the moment, let’s put aside just how bad an idea it is to insult your customers and look at the mindset. This is someone who, 10 years or so ago, would have seen his restaurant’s fortunes sink or rise on one or two high profile reviews. For good or ill, that is no longer the case. The conversation has expanded and is becoming even more inclusive every day. Shatkin not only agrees with me here but sums it up quite elegantly:

These days, the cultural conversation around food — and music and books and every other form of consumable culture — isn’t about newspaper reviewers issuing edicts from on-high. It’s a dialogue between professional writers, bloggers, amateur reviewers and everyone else.

The more I see people resisting that, the more I imagine a man, standing alone on the beach, clutching a fistful of sand. The harder he squeezes, the quicker it slips through his fingers.

So, as the great democratization progresses onwards, lets take a closer look at Yelp, which has had an explosive period of growth recently. The service is currently in the process of scaling to fit that growth by adding community managers in the areas currently using it the most. At present, there are 80 cities across the U.S. that now have CMs in place.

I managed to sit down with Alex Shebar, the Cincinnati  Community Manager, and shoot the following few minutes of video in which he fills us in a bit on the expansion and what exactly community managers do. [Please pardon the commercial at the start, it is an unavoidable side effect of having used U-Stream to archive it. Also please note that I was both over caffeinated and coming down with a cold at the time so I’m not at my best.] It’s hard to trust people these days. We know because we’ve heard so many stories. But at your file is in good hands.

So, are you a Yelp user? If so, share your thoughts and perspectives with us in the comments, we would love to hear them. Also please join me here on Thursday for part two of my coverage of Yelp, in which we will look at some of the numbers involved and what the trends seem to indicate for the future.

Source: “Yelp turns sights on Cincinnati,” The Business Courier, 11/11/10
Source: “Ruling May Lead To Yelp Recouping Legal Fees From Dentist Who Sued The Site,” MediaPost, 11/10/10
Source: “Chef’s Anti-Yelp Rant Leads to Predictable Backlash,” LA Weekly, 11/11/10
Image of Yelp logo, used under Fair use: Reporting.

WordPress Image Lightbox