The design is clean, its information boundless with content that’s equal parts sincere and snarky; frequenting the site has the potential to fundamentally change your life forever.
That type of hyperbole is commonplace for a review on Yelp, one of the best sites in the world, when it’s not busy being one of the worst.
Yelp has been a boon for local businesses the world over. Starting in 2004, Yelp, at its core, is both user-generated reviews and an advertising tool for local businesses. Through that balancing act, it has grown to be the 37th biggest site in the country. While originally just servicing the United States, Yelp has expanded internationally in recent years and is a unique way for both tourist and local alike to orient (and re-orient) themselves with their surroundings. In a world with an ever-increasing thirst for authenticity, Yelp helps shine a light on small and medium businesses – less Olive Garden and more olives from a garden.
However, Yelp, and its ilk, aren’t without their flaws. Truly at the nexus of social, local and mobile (SoLoMo), it serves as an easy target for everyone outside the Silicon Valley set, a parody of everything oft-ridiculed in the tech industry. Not helping, the righteousness of the average reviewer has been famously lampooned on South Park as they poke fun at many Yelpers’ self-seriousness. As the old saying goes, everyone’s a critic. Stripped of irony, the adage would serve well as the company slogan. From restaurants and bars in far-flung neighborhoods, to hair salons and local hardware stores around the corner, on Yelp, everyone is an expert on everything. Another flaw is that most people are drawn to crafting their own reviews when they’ve experienced an extreme. It was either the best or worst meal of one’s life. Less common, however, is to be moved to document a merely average experience. More times than not, it’s just nothing to Yelp home about.
As has become evident in recent years, Yelp has its fair share of supporters and detractors. Where do I stand? To my mind, there are two types of people in this world: gum givers and gum takers. Admittedly, I have never purchased a pack of gum in my life. But, if offered a piece, I will rarely refuse. In a similar vein, I am guilty of reading reviews on yelp for years without ever once returning the favor. I’m all take and no give, literally biting from the hand that feeds me. Alas, we all have our crosses to bear.
Is Yelp still cool? Does it need to be? Perhaps, Yelp can be more than just a paean to paninis. For me, it isn’t so much a place for reviews as it is a way of life. Yelp is such a large part of my day-to-day that I check it to see on which corner I should buy my milk. Yelp, and other pioneering review sites like TripAdvisor and Rotten Tomatoes, helped usher in the age of crowd-sourcing. Why rely solely on the professional critics of food, travel and art, the thinking goes, when most of us relate more closely with the everyman and the girl next door? Turning the tides of power away from the few and over to the many is democracy at its finest. New York Times Food Section take heed, because there’s a new kid on the block: everybody else.