My short, strange affair with Yelp.com

A few months back I encountered the hot, hip, new web site Yelp.  For those who don’t know Yelp is really a truly genius idea – a review site for restaurants and businesses that allows anyone to post a review.  With just a quick glance I could tell that Yelp was better than longtime competitors like epinions or AOL CitySearch.   I dove right in.  I read some reviews, even checked out some new restaurants based on the recommendations I found on Yelp.  And in time, I registered an account and wrote my own reviews.

It was in those first few days of review writing that I noticed things to be a little strange around there.  I wrote about a hundred reviews – mostly about a paragraph-long – in just a few days.  This raised the attention of the established Yelp community, who started a thread about me in the forums characterizing me as a “speed freak”, among other things.  I shrugged it off without much thought – it’s a review site, and I wrote reviews, what could be wrong with that?

As time rolled on, I began to venture into the Yelp user forums.  My first post was asking for opinions on a tailor in San Diego – the type of tailor that I could trust with an expensive suit, lamenting the typical three-dollar hack-n-slash shops that could be found around San Diego.  The responses surprised me.  I was basically told that “no one in San Diego wears expensive suits”.  Still undeterred, I engaged in more conversations, about restaurants, San Diego, and other topics of general interest.

But after awhile, things started to go south.  My wife visited a day spa ranked as “pricey” and “upscale” by the Yelp community.  It turned out to be a typical Vietnamese clip-n’-buff joint, replete with the nasty “towel full of toe-nail clippings” she so deseparately tried to avoid.  A few recommendations went bad too.  An Italian place was just OK, but had dozens of raves on Yelp. And some of my favorite places were getting terrible reviews.  Was it me?

Still undeterred, I continued to read, lurk, and contribute to the site.  But soon it would dawn on me: Yelp sucks.

The problem with Yelp is not the site itself. In fact, the site is great.  It makes it easy to find new businesses and read opinions about them.  I’s well laid out with good maps, easily googled too.  No, the problem is not the site: the problem is the Yelpers.

The reality is that 90% of Yelp users are young. The Yelp demographic breaks down to mostly college kids and twenty-somethings.  There are a few weird thirtysomethings thrown in as well. Now there is nothing wrong with young people.  However most young people share a few common situations which can affect their rating and ranking of a business.  The common thread, I realized, was that most Yelpers are broke.  So anything cheap, is great to them.  And anything free… especially things given to them as part of their Yelp Elite status… is treasured.

And lets face it, how many fine dining experiences can a twenty-five year old really ever have had?   Aside from a few graduation dinners, maybe two or three.  So does it really make sense for me to base a decision on a restaurant on the guidance of a person who’s only eaten at a nice restaurant with his parents?   And while I realize 100 bucks a plate is not cheap, 30 bucks a plate is not expensive either, which appears to be about the threshold for most Yelpers.

In the end I cancelled my account and deleted my reviews on that site after realizing I was hopelessly out-of-place.  My reviews, while useful to someone out there, were dwarfed by the hundreds of reviews by cheeky sorority girls, graphic artists, and internet marketers.

4 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    replete with the nasty “towel full of toe-nail clippings” she so deseparately tried to avoid–> Dude toenail clippings are awesome!

  2. P.Lee says:

    I don’t know nuthin’ about no “Yelp”
    nor any restaurant that serves you kelp.
    As Dirty Harry says: “Opinions are like assholes: Everybody’s got one”
    I hope this is of some help.

  3. drbone says:

    I don’t particularly care for Yelp myself. I’ve also read some of the negative things about yelp supposedly trying to extort money from businesses in exchange for highlighting positive reviews, etc. I think it’s a better idea to avoid them and stick with established sites like citysearch, and I’ve noticed a lot of new review sites cropping up like fairplayreviews.com

  4. Carmen says:

    I would agree with you, in terms of the reviewer demographic . You have to take everything with “a grain” of salt. I personally have had great experiences when I visit a restaurant, because I yelp mostly when I want to try a new restaurant. I also have found great repair shops. I write reviews when I am really blown away by a restaurant. I tend to shy away from posting a paraphaph long “I like” or “I dislike”, I would be doing a de-service mostly to the reader who Yelps.

    I still use Yelp, and I like it!

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