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February 20, 2009

East Bay Express Story Starts to Unravel

Inc, NYTimes, SJ Mercury News, Financial Times, SFWeekly, Greg Sterling (local analyst), Huffington Post, Digital Media (CNet), The Social (CNet)AppScout (PCMag Network) have now followed up on Kathleen Richards inaccurate piece with stories that further confirm what Yelp has been saying. Most notably:

1. While focusing on allegations that we remove reviews for pay (with a ridiculous "Extortion" headline) Kathleen backtracks in the very last paragraph of her five thousand word "expose":

"Owners who were approached by Yelp in recent months said they were told they could choose one positive review that would appear at the top of their page, which would clearly be denoted as a 'sponsored review.'

Plenty of Yelp advertisers still have negative reviews on their pages. 'You pretty much have to fight tooth or nail to get a bad review moved or removed,' said one East Bay restaurant advertiser, who wished to remain anonymous. Peter Snyderman, the owner of Elite Cafe, said his sales rep never mentioned moving negative reviews.”

2. It appears that a key source of confusion is our anti-spam algorithm which makes a small number of reviews come and go from a typical business' page.

We realize we need to do better at communicating the why and how of this counter-intuitive "feature" and we will. The world has seen a similar story before and I think we know how it ends (happily):

An article on Google from 2004:

"Last November, when Google changed the algorithm that governs how sites are ranked, many businesses registered howls of protest as they watched their sales plummet during the Christmas season. Some accused the company of trying to force them to buy advertising instead of relying on a free listing."

And another article from 2003:

"A significant change to Google's ranking algorithm has caused some web sites to lose top positions for some search terms. The outcry from affected site owners has been unprecedented, in my opinion." ...

"Some feel Google has dropped their sites to make them buy ads. In the short term, purchasing ads will be the only way they can be found. For some, it may even be the only long-term solution. In either case, it means more money for Google."

3. We have always had significant protections in place to separate sales from content (the same "potential" conflict exists at every news outlet):

"He said that members of Yelp’s sales team have no power to control the results displayed on a business’s page. Salespeople and engineers are on separate teams, and sit in separate offices. Reviews are displayed according to a proprietary algorithm, similar to the way in which Google results are determined.

Mr Stoppelman also said members of Yelp’s sales team are banned from posting reviews on the site. 'No salespeople can write reviews,' he said. 'That’s been a longstanding policy since Yelp began.' Other Yelp employees can write reviews, and Mr Stoppelman — an active reviewer — has even given one of his advertisers a one-star review."