by Dennis Yang

Filed Under:
negativity, recommendations, reviews


What Would Yelp Be Without The Negativity? Recommendations Instead Of Reviews

from the nothing-nice-to-say dept

SF Weekly's 4,333 word exposition about Yelp delves into many of the recent foibles of the not-yet-profitable community site. Since its inception in 2004, Yelp has played a key part in imbuing every-day consumers with the powers of professional critics. Now, with consumer reviews posted and shared online, instead of disappearing into the black hole of the customer feedback box, businesses shudder with fear at the potential of a bad review on Yelp. Sure, any business that regularly provides bad service would eventually succumb to the collective ire of community displeasure, but anecdotally, Yelp seems to amplify this effect. Although consumer reviews have been around for ages on sites like Amazon and CNET, Yelp's focus on local businesses expose a vulnerability not really seen in, say, the consumer electronics or book industry. An evening's dining choice is relatively fickle compared to a decision to buy a plasma tv, and one can see how that decision could be easily derailed by one strategically placed negative review. That said, as consumers become more savvy to sites like Yelp, their tolerance for a bad review or two should hopefully build. Or, as seen in the recent case of a San Francisco pizzera, businesses could learn to embrace their bad reviews.

Here's a thought. Whenever I visit a new city, I ask my friends for their recommendations, not reviews, of restaurants in the area. While it might be amusing to hear them rant about how awful such-and-such place was, ranting really does little good when trying to pick a place to eat out of the vast array of options that a typical city has to offer. Instead, maybe it's time for Yelp to put on the rose-colored glasses and offer an alternative view of the world: one where only recommendations exist. This is the approach taken by, a restaurant recommendation site that currently only serves San Diego. With no bad reviews to complain about, the complaint that a merchant doesn't get enough recommendations sounds much more like sour grapes. Furthermore, advertising on a page that features only recommendations of their establishment is a much more palatable proposition. Is the consumer less served by this rosy-eyed view of the world? Perhaps, but it would not be hard to see which establishments received less recommendations than others. Maybe mothers everywhere knew the answer all along when they advised: "if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all."

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2009 @ 5:32pm

    With an overabundance of positive only review sites, Yelp is a refreshingly honest look at local establishments. Granted there are always going to be those that give heinous reviews, but if one peruses all the opinions on a particular establishment, they can get an over all feel of what to expect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 19 Mar 2009 @ 6:00pm

    The Frak?

    The ebay model? Why? The restaurants aren't part of their customer base.

    "After eating their food, I spent quality time in their preternaturally clean bathrooms. 4 Stars! Would puke again!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ryan, 19 Mar 2009 @ 6:04pm

    Two Different Cases

    There are two cases: when you just want somebody to name a restaurant to go to, which is common if there are no constraints on time, location, preferred type, etc. (for instance, if you are in a new location). On the other hand, you may be curious as to whether that new restaurant 10 blocks down is any good--I can guarantee you that if your friend had a bad experience there, they would let you know. Only allowing positive recommendations makes it more difficult to discern whether a particular restaurant is actually that good, since it will be more heavily dependent on traffic than on actual quality. It also makes it harder to game, since any positive reviews made by those with a stake are countered by the bad.

    It may be that it would work equally well either way, but removing negative reviews seems like more of an acquiescence to incompetent businesses than a help to consumers. I would wager that any regular visitor to the site would catch on quite quickly that any single review, positive or negative, in pretty fickle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matt, 19 Mar 2009 @ 6:28pm


    People want real reviews, not just recommendations. A business that is too stupid to realize that maybe a single customer was displeased, is just pointless. I'm damn glad yelp has stuck up for negative reviews.

    I went to a place I loved, put my review on yelp, and someone else hated it. They were like "WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT THIS PLACE SUCKS". I'd rather have both reviews there than just my shining review, it validates both better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Julian Sanchez, 19 Mar 2009 @ 6:29pm

    Ryan hits on one important reason this seems unhelpful: Often you want a site like Yelp to help you choose between two or three nearby places, not to suggest something from an unconstrained universe of options. But even in that case, you might just ask *a friend*, whose likes and dislikes you probably know to be reasonably similar to yours, for a recommendation. But if you don't know much about how well the preferences of the endorsers match up with your own, then the ratio of positive to negative reactions among patrons is probably a hell of a lot more instructive than a raw number of recommendations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2009 @ 6:49pm

    Ummm, I dont know ...

    I want to go out for dinner - wait a minute, let me check this out with yelp first

    Nope - I dont think so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      The infamous Joe, 20 Mar 2009 @ 9:13am


      I do this all the time.. living on the North Shore of Boston affords me with a great many places to eat, and several apps on my iphone show yelp reviews.

      So yeah, that's exactly how it works.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TheStupidOne, 19 Mar 2009 @ 7:07pm

    The words contained in the review matter more than the review itself.

    For example I looked up a small mexican resturant in north san diego county. It had more positive reviews than negative, but i read several of each. The positive ones mostly said it was the best resturant ever. One of the negative reviews offered that the salsa they use is really good but the burritos aren't that great. After eating there (it's my girlfriends favorite place) I saw that the negative reviews were accurate. the burritos were OK, nothing I couldn't get anywhere else, but the salsa is in fact delicious.

    The best reviews actually have something to say. Someone who says it is overall a bad experience might say the food was good but the resturant was too loud and too many people there just to drink. But if that's what you are looking for then you'll read it as positive.

    Anyway, just my thoughts

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2009 @ 10:16pm


      I find that I tend to respond to a mix of ratings and reviews more than the reviews themselves. This can be bad as while ratings display a quick and easy decision making tool, a persons idea of what is 4 stars vs what is 5 can be drastically different. I believe that separating star ratings from the reviews is the best approach as it will give the reviews more weight in a decision. Ratings can still be a factor, but on an average scale rather than by individual. If a 4 star restaurant is really worth a 4 star rating, then the average user rating should make that pretty clear.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Weird Harold, 19 Mar 2009 @ 8:02pm

    People are creative and honest when they bitch, and most often offering up pretty empty "best place ever" for places they like. So one sided only things you liked site would probably be both meaningless and packed full of shills and self-spams.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R. Miles, 20 Mar 2009 @ 3:57am

    You actually take stock in reviews? Fools.

    Replace the "say nothing at all" with "Opinions are like butt holes. Everyone has one and they all stink."

    I stopped using reviews to sway my decision eons ago. I found that (and Harold's right on this one) if a customer dislikes the product/service, they'll write a damn book online.

    If they like the product, they'll shill out more descriptions about the product, basically copying every other damn positive review.

    Go view Amazon's review system for proof.

    I've written a few reviews, but I try to convey a non-bias synopsis based on other matching genre. This gives people more of an idea of what to expect, not a "OMFG! BEST MOVE EVA! HAXXORS! :P :) YOU SHOUld buy THIS MOVIE!"

    That's not a review. That's just stupidity.

    Add in the fact there are stories of people being paid to write positive reviews, and this also makes them more useless.

    Much like a feedback system which doesn't allow negatives when they're necessary.

    Now, before anyone whines, yes, there are some good reviews out there. But those are generally the minority. How long does it take to sift through the crap to find them.

    And Yelp? Never heard of it until today. This sounds like something my dog did. And given the article, sounds like Yelp is pretty much the same (assumption).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    J.C., 20 Mar 2009 @ 5:00am

    In reply

    First @R. Miles since you like to quote old tired sayings "assuming does two things, makes and ass out of you, and an ass out of me" so quit.

    To the poster: It's sort of a ridiculous idea to allow only positive reviews. This isn't your mothers kitchen where only nice things are allowed to be said. If a consumer looks at a location that has no "recommendations" they won't think that the place is awful, they'll simply think that no one who uses this review site has been there before. Blindly leading them into what could be an awful dining experience.

    Also, Yelp! in specific is not about just restaurant reviews. It's about reviewing ALL local businesses. Have an automechanic that ripped you off, or took too long to fix your car, OR even worse left your car in worse shape than when they received it? You can write about it, warning other customers not to use this mechanic. The same goes with all sorts of other service industries. "I went to Dr. So-and-so and while they told me initially they accepted my insurance when it came time to pay they really gave me the run-around. Go somewhere else." The possibilities are endless and extremely useful if you use your resources and take what you read with a little perspective.

    The site is young and still getting off the ground. I've only within the last few months become a participant and realize that it's going to take some time before a real perspective on certain businesses can be found there. In the meantime it's helped me discover some places that I never even knew where there thanks to reviews.

    In other words, in a world where only recommendations are allowed I would NOT recommend anyone read your articles again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nick (profile), 20 Mar 2009 @ 8:49am

    One of the problems with Yelp is that people try to amuse their friends with bad reviews, and review business that they know that should not use because it does not fit their needs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Rosedale, 20 Mar 2009 @ 9:06am

    I like negative reviews

    I like negative reviews, or allowing them. I'll read them and more often then not you can tell the person is bitching about a small thing or over something you wouldn't care about. But at least they are able to vent and able to share. I know that on Yelp if I find a place that consistently gets the same negative comments that sways my mind, but only if it is multiple complaints and about something that I take seriously. I also take time into account. If all the complaints happened a year ago I chalk it up to a bad manager. I actually went to a place that had consistent bad reviews for that very reason, the recent reviews were good old ones were bad. Turned out fine.

    I don't think the solution is to take away the negative. Restaurants need to learn that criticism is a good thing and that it won't end their business.

    Also when I go to a town and ask friends for a recommendation...I actually do want to hear of the "place you shouldn't go." Generally I am wanting to hear the positive places, or their favorite place, but if they offer the place not to go I want to hear that as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tubbs McGee, 20 Mar 2009 @ 10:55am

    Fundamental business model conflict

    First, ignoring the posturing and ranting that reviews can contain, the ability to say something negative represents a consumer's power over the business. Consumers like this power, so I'm not surprised by the comments here.

    Second, negative reviews contain useful information. I'd generally like to know if you had a bad experience.

    Powerful consumers and useful information are good things, but a conflict arises when Yelp's business model depends on sending invoices to the very businesses that Yelpers have opinions on. In this case, Yelp can either sell out the community and hide the negative reviews or stick to their "community first" mission and alienate a source of revenue. Either one of these is a critical problem.

    This fundamental conflict makes pure "review" sites difficult to monetize. Looking back over the history of the Internet, what review sites were smashing successes?

    Cnet and Epinions both de-emphasized their reviews and morphed into comparison shopping sites. Chowhound is a passionate community of diners but it generates no money from restaurants-- they have general banner ads sprinkled on their pages. Gizmodo? Engadget? General banner ads. The .org should tell you how they feel about profits. And let's not forget the 2007 fiasco at Gamespot where the conflict between editorial and sales caused them to fire a too-candid editor, leading to a round of employee resignations and a massive loss of credibility among gamers.

    As Yelp grows, we'll see more examples of friction between their current business model and their community of reviewers. For example, here's a particularly well-written opinion of Yelp by a restaurant owner:
    Yelp is destructive in that it overlooks the fact that a business and its customers are in partnership, and must work closely together to build an enterprise that is an asset to the community. In a healthy community, patrons and proprietor have a meaningful, ongoing, and respectful relationship where they together forge an ecology which serves everyone well.

    The world of Yelp, on the other hand, is a place where businesses sell, consumers consume, and the patrons only involvement is in posting semi-anonymous “reviews” which celebrate or tear down the business, after the fact and well after the time that a meaningful relationship is likely to be built.
    Read the rest of this thoughtful screed here, and you can find more examples of this conflict on Consumerist.

    As a group, local businesses face a Prisoner's Dilemma when dealing with Yelp. They would all be better served by bypassing the review site and developing direct and lasting relationships with their customers. But if the pizza place down the block is playing ball with Yelp, Dennis the Pizza Guy might be forced to do the same.

    My apologies for the long comment. If you've made it this far, please email me for your valuable cash prize.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Clueby4, 20 Mar 2009 @ 5:02pm

    Nothing is perfect

    Nothing is perfect, so if I encounter "reviews" or "recommendations" without Pros and Cons, I fill them under; astroturfing/fanboy flappings/works for me, ie noise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Loser Cranky Judge Who Denies My Anti-Slapp Motion, 27 Aug 2009 @ 1:32am

    Loser Cranky Judge Who Denies My Anti-Slapp Motion

    I posted negative review on 2 consumer websites & I have a libel lawsuit fallen on my lap as a result. I then filed an anti-slapp motion to strike it, but it got denied. Why can't I speak freely & honestly in public with the truth? What if book reviewers on all get sued if they write negative reviews? Will peoples stop buying books ? Don't introduce the law & yet make it impossible for rightful peoples to entitle it...The system is super antiquated & the laws do not allow reviewers fairly with honest opinions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Mary, 9 Oct 2009 @ 4:22pm

      Re: Loser Cranky Judge Who Denies My Anti-Slapp Motion

      I left a review on yelp and other sites about my dentist. I was careful to make it simple, short and only wrote what I could prove. Well he didn't like it and gave me a warning that if I didn't remove my reviews he was going to sue me. I am spending a lot of money with a lawyer to straigh out my issues as I refused to remove my reviews.
      I am curious on the reason the anti-slapp motion was denied in your case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Abu Jihad (profile), 12 Dec 2009 @ 12:47pm

    I was Abu J on Phoenix Yelp until the local community manager closed my account. I had 593 reviews, of which 300 were five star and only 65 were one star.

    The one stars deserved their ratings far more than the five stars, I assure you.

    I regularly got threats from other yelpers, but only once from a restaurant owner, who later lost his restaurant in a suspicious fire. Go figure.

    I agree about recommendations instead of reviews, but if you omit all the negative reviews you would have a lot less reliability. There are many places that are beloved of the typical yelper, but which might not appeal to a reader. A few negative reviews can make a the overall rating more reliable.

    And the "magic formula" to avoid a lawsuit...just liberally use the phrases "In my opinion" and "I believe" and end by saying something like "others may differ but this is my personal opinion."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yelp Is Dishonest, 12 Nov 2010 @ 9:36am

    Our business has had 5 reviews so far. One is a negative review from a man who is lying about being a client; the other four are very positive. Yelp keeps only the dishonest negative review on our Yelp page, and filters out all positive reviews. Then, after complaining about this, they start hitting me up to set up a "business" account. I will never trust Yelp, again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shadi, 20 Sep 2012 @ 11:12am

    Have you seen the pictures on Yelp's listing on Yelp? Just saw a few, pictures of employees you can tell they were hand picked, I don't think normal good people would want to work for Yelp! There is one picture of this "Yelps Rules" wrote in the sands! This alone shows the mind set of these inhuman people! They believe they have they are ruling our lives! They are aware of destroying lives and they are proud of it! Hoe creepy is that!

    People in over seas pull down dictators by putting their lives on the line, why can't we have an organized demonstration to bring light and attention to this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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