When you go to a new restaurant and have a good experience, it's likely that you won't keep the place a secret. After all, when people enjoy a great meal, exceptional service or a pleasant atmosphere, they typically make an effort to tell other people about it. Many of us, particularly city dwellers, are naturally curious about what's new, popular or just plain good around town, and sharing with others is one of the easier and more reliable ways of establishing the best locations. The same goes for many other types of businesses or services -- drivers often recommend a good mechanic to people looking for affordable, honest work on a car, while someone in need of a new doctor might ask around for recommendations.
But it can work the opposite way, too. If you go to a restaurant and have a terrible time -- maybe the food is unappetizing, or the service is poor -- you want to warn others about it. Instead of allowing your friends to suffer through an expensive meal that most likely won't satisfy, maybe you recommend they think twice about their choice of restaurant and suggest somewhere else to enjoy a night out.
Businesses live and die by this kind of communication, and now the Internet has made it even easier for word to spread quickly about the quality of all kinds of services. One of the more popular social networking sites that focuses on reviewing businesses and sharing information about them is Yelp.com. Founded in 2004 in San Francisco, Calif., the Web site is like a large online bulletin board featuring user-generated content, all geared toward personal reviews based on experiences at local businesses. Yelp takes a Web 2.0 approach to their sites, where members run the show as far as sharing, reviewing and communicating is concerned. Although the company is based out of San Francisco, its set up online communities in every major city in the United States and can be found in several other countries, too. Yelp has recently expanded its reach to Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
So how does Yelp work? How do members use it, and what benefits does the site offer?
Anyone with an Internet connection can browse the Yelp Web site. It's easy to look through business reviews and ratings and read about other people's experiences. When you open up Yelp's home page, chances are the site will recognize the nearest major city or town to which you live and display popular locations and highlighted reviews. For instance, if you're accessing Yelp from New York City, you'll probably open up yelp.com/nyc when you type in the regular address.
But you can't write your own reviews or follow other Yelp users if you don't first sign up for, and manage, a personal account. Signing up for a Yelp account is basically like signing up for most other social networking Web sites -- to create a profile, the site needs your first and last name, your e-mail address, a password for logging in and, if you live in the United States, your ZIP code, too. If you live in Canada, you'll be asked for your postal code, in Ireland, your city/town and in the United Kingdom, you'll need to provide your postcode. Your gender and age are optional. Once you're signed in, you're officially a yelper, the common nickname for Yelp users.
Now you can review practically any establishment in your community. To write a review, users simply click on the "Write a Review" button near the top of the page. From there you can search for the establishment you'd like to review by typing in the business name and the city and ZIP code in which it's located. Once you select the business from the search results, you can click on the "Write a Review" button next to it. At the top of the review you can give the business a star rating from one to five, with one meaning "Eek! Methinks not!" (poor) and five meaning "Woohoo! As good as it gets!" (great). A text box where you can type your review is directly below, and there are optional selections that are either objective or subjective. You can give an average price range, for instance, or you can note whether or not they accept credit cards or have outdoor seating.
Benefits of Yelp
The major benefit and main point of Yelp is the ease of communication most yelpers experience -- the site is like word-of-mouth for the digital world, and with Yelp communities popping up in most American cities and other places around the globe, it gets easier to find hot places to go to and see what other people think.
But Yelp isn't just reviews: There are also events, event reminders and special offers from businesses and you can even make friends with other yelpers, just like Facebook or MySpace. This allows you to send messages to other users or even "follow" them, which allows you to see a specific reviewer's posts before any others when you're looking at a business. If you want to post your personal reviews on Facebook, you can import them directly from your Facebook profile -- by logging in and clicking on the settings link below the status update field, you can select "automatically import activity" to upload your most recent content and inform an even wider audience on your good taste.
And with the perception of the Internet and social networking as a place where some people go simply to troll around and start flame wars, Yelp appears to be a place where users go to give a balanced opinion about their personal experiences. For the most part, the site isn't a destination for Web surfers to rant wildly about their least favorite restaurant -- in fact, out of all of Yelp's reviews, 85 percent of them have ratings that are three stars or higher, meaning many people come to talk about their positive experiences rather than the negative ones.
And although there are "Sponsored Results," which show up when you search for a company that has paid to include advertisements on the site, the Yelp team does its best to treat every business in a fair manner and keep an eye on any suspicious posts. Yelp also won't remove bad reviews from a sponsored businesses page, and they try to make sure employees aren't posting good reviews for the company at which they work or negative ones for competitors.
For more information about social networking and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
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- Yelp.com. "Frequently Asked Questions." Sept. 1, 2008. (July 6, 2009)http://www.yelp.com/faq