Yelp: the backlash begins…

There’s a pretty serious article about Yelp, which has become the dominant player in restaurant and service reviews in the SF Bay Area, in a local alternative weekly The East Bay Express called Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0.

Now recently Yelp has seen a couple of its reviewers sued for reviews about health care providers (both chiropractors), and the issue about what reviewers can say online is probably still to be worked out.

But this article is about something much worse. It accuses Yelp of changing reviews, eliminating them, and generally breaching the church/state line between community and sponsorship. And it goes both ways. Businesses that advertise get bad reviews “disappeared” and those who don’t find their good reviews are vanishing.

Reading between the lines, it’s probably true that pushy commissioned sales people have been suggesting that good things will happen to those businesses that sponsor/advertise, and that the reverse is true to those who don’t. The question is, have they actually been given the keys to the car to make that happen? If so, it’ll probably kill Yelp’s business. But if it doesn’t then lawsuits and regulation are likely to follow.

This already matters for health care reviews. Yelp has far more doctor reviews (in terms of number of reviews per physician) than any other review site I’m aware of in the SF Bay Area. But of course, the same issue is potentially true for any review site that focuses on doctors and is searching for a business model.

The only issue as of now is that, as Michael Millenson pointed out this week on THCB, the healthcare review sites out there now can only hope for a fraction of Yelp’s reach and power.

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