I have been playing with Yelp since July and I really have grown to like it. Part of the reason that I like it is that I haven’t seen anything really interesting (at scale) in the entertainment review space since Citysearch. Citysearch is great as a directory — if you want to find an address and read a basic review, it’s great for that. However, the user-generated reviews are, in my opinion, not very trustworthy. The lack of trustworthiness, in my opinion, boils down to two things:
1. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the gushing positive reviews are written by the owners or staff of the places being reviewed — call me a conspiracy theorist.
2. I am not really interested in what just anybody says — I am, however, really interested in what my friends might say or what people whose tastes mirror mine have to say.
So I basically stopped listening to Citysearch ratings/reviews about 2 years ago. They obviously still hold sway with many others in the Bay Area but I view them as really untrustworthy.
What I really like about Yelp, however, is that it is the first service that I have seen that might really be able to address problem #2. How? Well, I think it’s pretty simple. Yelp is collecting a ton of data from those who take the time to rate and review restaurants, hotels, etc. In the same way that Junglee/Amazon revolutionized how people find books and other goods by using collaborative filtering, I can see Yelp (at scale) achieving a similar aim. Right now, the “missing lens” is the ability to filter reviews and ratings based on similar interests. I would love the ability to use Yelp to filter reviews and ratings based on how similar other reviewers’ scores are to ones that I have entered. This is something that nobody seems to be doing today. Ultimately, this collaborative filtering might prove even more useful than reviews provided by my friends.
I have a modest amount of skepticism about many community sites out there today. My skepticism comes largely from the fact that the incentive to contribute is so low relative to the incentive to consume. My sense is that there is a lot of opportunity for Yelp to establish itself as one of the few community sites where the incentive to contribute is strong and real — contribute more data and get better results. What a nice feedback loop that would be.
Finally, I just help that Yelp doesn’t get bombarded with spam or other forms of electronic pollution. I am sure they could take a page from some of the lessons that Digg and others have learned here.
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