Want to find a reputable dentist? How about a cozy bar for that perfect second date? A few years ago, you would have consulted friends. Today, chances are good that Yelp is the place you go.
But what if you found out that some of the reviews were written by hired hands--or that reviews were either removed or placed higher or lower on the page based on whether the merchant was willing to pay Yelp for special services?
Those are the allegations being made in an expose in the East Bay Express this week. The newspaper reported that six business owners said Yelp sales reps promised to remove or move negative reviews in exchange for advertising and that in six other instances positive reviews disappeared or negative ones appeared after owners declined ad deals.
The allegations could have consequences for Yelp, which was founded in July 2004 as a site where people can post reviews and ratings of businesses. It operates in about three dozen U.S. cities, as well as in Canada and the U.K.
In his rebuttal to the article posted on his blog, Yelp Chief Executive Jeremy Stoppelman denies all the allegations and questions the story's sources, including one named source he claims had reviews removed because they were deemed to be fake.
"There is irrefutable evidence that we do not do that," Stoppelman told CNET News on Thursday when asked whether the placement of some reviews is determined by advertising deals. "It's absolutely ridiculous that somebody would say we are going to write a review and call a business (to sell advertising). That's not how you build a sustainable business...Trust and integrity are key to staying in business."
The problem, according to Stoppelman, lies in the company's secret sauce for filtering out reviews.
At the mercy Basically, merchants are at the mercy of a computer algorithm just like Web sites are at the mercy of what is known as the "Google Dance"--the monthly update of the Google search engine's index. One tweak of the Google index can potentially make or break a business.
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