Yelp, the local business review site, continues to fascinate me. As I previously noted, Yelp is being sued for alleged extortion by a number of small businesses that claim they were told that negative reviews about their businesses could be hidden or removed if they advertised.
Where Yelp has gone wrong is that by adopting a pro-consumer stance, it feels it must inherently be anti-business as well. They are not the same thing. Not letting businesses rebut and correct reviews will ultimately kill Yelp because there are no checks and balances. Consumers aren't uniformly noble any more than businesses are uniformly evil. The notion that if you have enough reviews of a business the truth will ultimately shine through is a convenient but flawed notion. Sheer volume can obscure the truth. And how do individuals weigh and reconcile wildly opposing comments posted by strangers?
What I think we're quickly evolving to is a "Reviews 2.0" environment. The volume-driven free-for-alls that characterized the early review sites will fall out of favor. What we'll see is quantity losing out in favor of quality. Reviews will be limited to those willing to identify themselves and/or those who can prove they bought the product or visited the business being reviewed. Professionals will favor reviews by other professionals. We may even see publishers curating reviews, removing the clutter of reviews that offer little insight or information value. These are all checks and balances that recognize the importance of reviews while simultaneously improving their value. Letting the reviewed party have some input isn't selling out. Done properly, it adds value by raising the level of discourse.
Yelp desperately needs to start thinking "Reviews 2.0," because vilifying small businesses and allowing strangers to trash them without recourse while simultaneously asking them for money just isn't a viable business model. At least that's my review.