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Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007 at 7:45 pm

Drink Up! — Yelp Turns Web 2.1

By Robert Gorell
August 2nd, 2007

Yelp yourself...

Well, well, well… It looks like one “Web 2.0″ darling is all grow’d up!, the popular consumer-generated review site, is about to leave sites like and too worthless to line a digital birdcage.

Why’s Yelp such a big deal? Because it’s powered by actual customers; people who care enough about a small or emerging local business to spend their time reviewing it.

But that’s just the beginning. This week, Yelp (finally) showed that it’s flirting with local adversing. They’re even opening up the platform so developers can integrate reviews with maps, photos, phone numbers, and anything else one might need to quickly find the best stuff our neighborhoods have to offer. All of this adds up to big news for local businesses that want to engage with customers directly.

Do you Yelp? If not, you’re missing out on the best thing to democratize American taste since the Zagat Survey.

Scratch that. Yelp’s better. Where else can you find nerdy, ridiculous, artful, concise, trashy, sublime, scathing, and/or funny reviews of restaurants, bars, accountants, tattoo parlors, or anything else that’s odd, hidden and local? Sure, they have reviews of chain stores and restaurants, but the weirder extremes is where Yelp proves its value. Need a mime that speaks three languages but won’t talk? Yelp it. Need to find a deli that delivers vegan pastrami sandwiches that taste like the real thing? Good luck, but Yelp’s your best shot.

Now that big chains like Wal-Mart are getting hip to consumer-generated reviews, Yelp has the power to do the same for small business.

Just one thing, though… Why is it that Yelpers still can’t disagree with me?

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Comments (10)

  1. Robert, I like Yelp as much as the next guy (and would be glad to do the friend thing if you have an account), but the reality is that the site only has meaningful content in the larger markets. It’s the same problem all of the local/social sites face to some degree — get out of the city and it’s really sparse, and borderline useless.

    I don’t know what the solution is to that, and I suspect Yelp doesn’t either. :-)

  2. True. Still, I see it spreading over time. Every trend worth turning into a viable business starts in urban areas. Besides, if they can get this advertising model going in the cities, who cares if it takes 10 years to get big in strip-mall America?

    We live in a largely homogenized culture. Take metro Detroit — where I’m from originally — for instance. Yelp has a lot of reviews for Detroit and suburban areas like Ann Arbor, Royal Oak or Ferndale, then it tapers-off as you get deeper into the state. One way to look at that is to say that Yelp’s only used by city-folk. Another way to look at it is that there ain’t a whole lot else worth reviewing.

    The cool thing for Yelp is that they don’t have to try to be SuperPages or YellowBook right out of the gate — that’s up to consumers.

    In other news, I just heard of this cool social networking tool just for Harvard kids called “The Facebook” ;)

    (By the way, Matt, that’s my account I link to at the end of the piece. My only review is of, which I did last November.)

  3. People always like to make comments like “leave sites like and too worthless to line a digital birdcage.” because there is no consequences if they are wrong. The pronouncement that Yelp will somehow kill others is greatly exaggerated and shows lack of insight. Look what happened to Backfence. In fact, Yelp will be more successful working with the likes of They compliment each other and it not a win lose proposition. It is a win win.

  4. Troy,

    Perhaps. Still, I’m not sure Yelp would have as much to gain as YellowBook by doing some kind of partnership. I don’t see Yelp being a one-stop-shop for directory listings anytime soon. Where I’m saying they leave them in the dust is in terms of value. Personally, I don’t see the need for searching YellowBook or SuperPages when you can find the same basic info at the top of almost any Google result.

    Thanks for your comment, and I hope you’ll challenge me more on this point.

  5. Ooooh, now you’re using fighting words! Outside of big cities, “there ain’t a whole lot else worth reviewing”??? RG, you’ve been in Brooklyn too long. Time to come out and get some fresh air in the rest of America. :)

  6. Matt,

    You’re probably right. Care to Yelp your local favorites? I look forward to reading ‘em :)

  7. Robert, as much as Google wants to organized the world’s information, it can only do so if the information is on-line. Much of yellowpages type information is not on-line since most small businesses still have no web presense. Try finding a plumber that speaks Spanish and gives a senior discount using Google. In fact, it will be much easier for Google to get Yelp content than yellowpages content. I think Yelp and other “social networking” or hyper local type sites are interesting but I keep asking myself just what are their sustainable advantages or differentiations, barriers to entry by others, and can they scale beyond their traditional West coast large cities orientation??

  8. Troy,

    Great points, and you might even get me to back down from my hyperbole juuuust a bit. I’m not convinced Yelp could help me find a plumber who speaks Spanish on short notice, but there are several listed in NY. Is that enough to replace the print YellowPages? No, but between Yelp and a Google search, it may be enough to replace in urban areas. (Yes, Matt, I do agree that you have a point there as well.)

    The thing is that, yes, these things take time. A year ago, Yelp wasn’t much help beyond the Bay Area. Today, it’s practically cliche to say “Great restaurant… Maybe I’ll Yelp it” if you live in San Fran. Everything’s been Yelp’d!

    But it’s spreading. (I’m not sure where you live, Troy, but you should check it out. See what’s been Yelp’d in your area… I’d be interested to know.)

    What’s valuable about Yelp is that it’s NOT the Yellow Pages. What’s even more valuable about Yelp is that it’s not trying to BE the Yellow Pages. Where they win is the court of public opinion. Finding quality is a difficult thing, and it’s even more difficult in urban environments because there’s simply too much to sift through.

    Do you know how many restaurants have the “best burger in NY”… the “best pizza in Brooklyn”… or whatever else it is. Other customers can help you sift through that.

    But here’s where they really win: Yelp is fun.

    Ever enjoy reading the Yellow Pages? Me neither.

    Perhaps leaving them “worthless” is a bit harsh, but keep in mind that I’m talking about online listings. I’m not saying “Yelp will replace the phone book for Americans everywhere.” That would be completely overzealous. Outside of the marketing/tech community, I know very few people over the age of 35 who even know what Yelp is.

    Still, if anyone would care to discuss why or is a) any better than using the actual phone book, or b) is any more relevant and helpful than Yelp, I’m all eyes. :)

  9. Rob, I totally agree that Yelp is fun and “cool”. Yelp is more of a vertical site that focus on a niche and fun categories that have a lot of shared interests. Now come the part of about ratings and reviews. I’m a big fan of Amazon because of the ratings and reviews. One thing I noticed is that people will only submit ratings and reviews on topics that they are passionate or have a strong interest in. That’s why you have so many reviews on certain types of products and services. Notice there are not much reviews on transmission repairs, spetic tank contractors, garbage removal services, funeral homes, urologist, etc. You get the point. Can Yelp and other sites get ratings and reviews for the thousands of different types of services that are listed in the yellowpages? You are also right that nobody enjoy reading yellowpages because that’s not point. People use yellowpages when they really have a need like their basement just got flooded or a loved one just past away. Your point about not too many people over 35 knows about Yelp is somewhat true. And I would add that not too many people under 30 knows about or I have a simple theory for this. If you are in your 20′s and living with your parents or renting, you will not be in the market for most of the services that are offered by yellowpages either on line or the book. I bet their parents or landlord would be using yellowpages. Wait until those in the 20s and 30s start getting older and own a house, have kids, aging parents, health problems, a skunk living in the attic, and the garage door stopped working. See if they will go to Yelp first to get help.
    As to your last point on why is better than using an actual book. The simple answer is that they are basically the same if you have the book that is related to your city where you are living. In fact, I think the book is better. The problems is how do you look up information on another city because all books are based on cities.
    I think I have seen too many times that people rush to pronounce that something new somehow make something else obsolete. I agree there are certain instances that are true like digital camera basically killed Kodak or cell phone killed the payphones. In the case of Yelp and the yellowpages, I think they can and will conexist with each serving different needs. Rob, I suspect you are a relatively young guy and I mean this as a compliment. I bet when you are in your late 30′s and you may own a large old home with lots of maintenance needs and many kids. You will be using some form of yellowpages which will be around for a long time. I doubt you will be thinking about Yelp because either you are too busy with other aspects of your life or Yelp is no longer around.

  10. Good post, some fascinating details. I believe six of days ago, I have discovered a similar post.

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