Jump to content
DonRocks

Yelp.com (2004-) - A California-Based Review Website, Widely Accused of Extortion in Building Their Business

Recommended Posts

Thanks for these thoughts! Two quick thoughts of my own, and then a request for clarification:

1) I think your perception of our membership is wrong. Those "anonymous jerks" on other sites would not be anonymous jerks here - we're not set up as an environment that fosters anonymous jerkitude. We've had our share, but they find out quickly that their games, or anterior motives, will be slapped down here. Quite often, people that have walked through our door with an agenda or an attitude have been "loved to death," and have become important members.

2) We don't moderate heavily at all; we just hyper-organize things. I just went back and looked at the deleted posts, and I'm proud to say that in the past week, only *two posts* have been deleted: a duplicate which was deleted at the request of Sthitch, and this one from Ericandblueboy (which just didn't make the laugh committee laugh): "When did communism take over? [just kidding]" That's it!

In other words, I believe that if these anonymous jerks on other websites flooded our gates, they wouldn't be anonymous jerks here. I think we could have 100,000 members and keep the same level of quality that we have now because the "model" is set up correctly.

Now my request for clarification: how do I get these things on Facebook other than writing them myself? I have a lot of Facebook friends, but don't want to use my personal account to pimp this website. dcdining.com has a page, but only has about 500 members. I'm all ears and open to suggestions!

On #1 - I didn't mean to say you have anonymous jerks here - or that you would - just that I suspect it is very difficult to scale and not end up with them. Washingtonpost.com comes to mind - I'm sure early on they cared about the quality and interaction of their posters - now they don't care and as you pointed out, the result is that the 1% of thoughtful dialog is lost. You have it right on this site now: I'm just warning of what I perceive to be the first danger in true expansion. And on the interwebs, that expansion can hit hard and fast.

On #2 - I'm including hyper-organizing in the word "moderating" - in fact, I'd say moderating has three elements: screening people, organizing and deleting. If the first two are done well, there won't be much of the third. You and your team moderate very well through screening (which is done in many ways, like simply checking that there's a real person behind the login) and through organizing. Again, these become harder to handle with larger scale. In my short time here I've seen the post volume increase dramatically and I'm impressed you keep up.

As for Facebook - there are tools out there that can help you make such postings. The one I know about is "hootsuite" which is a kind of scheduler, allowing you to write 20 facebook posts today and (as an example) save them and post them one each every morning for the next 20 days.

So here's what I'd suggest (assuming the goal is to drive traffic to this site).

1. Have a "donrockwell.com" facebook page.

2. Figure out how the "like" button on this board works - (I'm not being snarky here) - maybe there's a way you can log in and tie your login on donrockwell.com to the facebook page of the same name. Then when you "like" a post, it is shared on facebook. Of course, it won't have pictures or a headline, but it is a start and an EASY way to transfer things to facebook without doing much,

3. Give the donrockwell facebook page login to your moderators and ask them to occasionally share great stuff. Be careful not to overdo it - but if once or twice a day, someone posted an attractive headline and a link, with a picture, it becomes easy to share.

This is shameless self promotion but most people look at social media much more often than any particular site. So the idea is to entice them into this site - but more importantly, give them something to share with others who might visit the site for the first time.

The biggest key - don't give the story on social media. Tell people there's a good story - and have them come to the site to find out what that story is. If you look at my three examples, they don't give the punchline, they force you to click through. You have harsh words about a bistro....there's controversy about broccoli stems....Old Ebbitt Grill changes their hours....get people to click.

You gave a link above to a tweet. I know twitter is different...but I'd say something like "What changed in the Notting Hill kitchen? Donrockwell.com to find out"

Lastly - consider a single page - DCdining.com. It can have a forum, the one found today on donrockwell.com. Two reasons:

1. It makes it easier to manage traffic and get "synergy".

2. I think people will be more likely to trust "dcdining" than "donrockwell" as a source of unbiased opinions. I might be wrong and I'm a bit torn on this...but I feel like your plans are attempting to break from niche to something larger. And I think the two sites complement each other.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a lot of Facebook friends, but don't want to use my personal account to pimp this website. dcdining.com has a page, but only has about 500 members. I'm all ears and open to suggestions!

One other note - 500 friends doesn't matter too much. What matters is finding creative ways that get those 500 friends to "like" or "Share" whatever you post.

I would safely assume that each of your connections has 150 or more facebook friends. So...while you can fight to add one more "friend" to make your number 501 - if just one of the existing friends shares or likes your post - you just sent that post to 650 or more people - 150 of which are more than likely completely new to you and your site.

Right now, the 500 you have are already signed up for your site. Getting #501 isn't the war to wage - Getting a post to be popular enough to be shared by just 10 of those 500 - that opens you up to 1500 new people....3x what you have now as friends.

Do you need to write the post? I dunno - that's up to you and how much you care to do that. But this is the pond into which I'd be dropping my bait.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

jayandstacey's posts have givne me so much to (apologies in advance) chew on that I'm going to need to meditate on them, but I did want to reply to Pat right away:

I'd refrain from making generalizations about people just because they use yelp. How do you know the same people aren't on Chowhound, eGullet, etc., or have blogs of their own? Maybe some of them could actually be registered here too.

This was (part of) the point I tried to make - I think they *are* the same people, and yes, I think some are already here. The total, rip-roarin' A-holes on WashingtonPost.com are probably successful attorneys or bureaucrats making six figures and just need a place to kick the dog.

One analogy I'll offer: if I was a factory, I'd be running at 10% capacity right now. I couldn't handle 100 times the volume, but I could handle 10 times the volume (I think, (*)). I'm working like a dog - you have no idea how much (essentially, I have no life) - but I'm not working on moderating; I'm working on a super-secret, deluxe-backwards-somersault, behind-the-scenes project that I plan on springing on everyone this summer (this secret project is a good thing that I'm pretty sure nearly 100% of the people here will like).

(*) As for Pat and Jackie and Linda, well, I haven't asked them their opinions because I don't want to know. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Don:

DR.com is not yelp and yelp is not dr.com. yelp is a huge endeavor with $10's of millions of dollars behind it. From a strong inside web expert I was told that yelp used millions of dollars of its seed money to pay for 10's of thousands of initial reviews. That helped get them started. It created momentum, visibility and notoriety. It essentially created a new phenomena on the web.

I think there are great ideas above. I'd try a couple. I'd figure out which one's that you have the time for and on which you need help and I'd ask for help. You have passionate helpful members.

Here are a couple of other ideas.

This is a slight variation on jayandstacey's idea. I'd get the names and contacts of all relevant print and web media in the area including popular blogs like prince of petworth and similar web publications.

I'd keep sending out PR pieces about interesting threads just as jayandstacey mentioned. There are a lot of newsworthy interesting threads here. They keep popping up. Any time one or more pick up those pieces it goes out to tons of new and potential readers and members.

2nd) I'd make the calendar invisible to non members. Then I'd start marketing and mentioning the deals. There are a lot of great deals there available to dr.com readers now. Make the readers or visitors become members. Then start marketing, mentioning, highlighting that feature. People love love love deals. Think groupon, LivingSocial and every other deal in the books. Try and get more deals. Folks love deals.

For every member...you have 3, 4, 5, 6-10 lurkers on the site. Try and give those folks more incentive to sign up rather than lurk.

Promote the dcdining guide that Rich has developed. help it get more visibility. Its such a rich (no pun intended) alternative to reviewing restaurant options. Its the aggregated and composite reviews of experts. That is rich and worthwhile and will attract readers. Moreover in its current web form it will end up more easily ranking for more search phrases in google search than the forum. It will be found more frequently over time. In a short time the VA list will come out. I'd promote it. A couple of hundred Va restaurants with aggregated reviews by experts and all this neat commentary from passionate foodies on DR.com about those options....and there really isn't a great northern virginia alternative to that information. There are about 2 million people living in greater NOVA. That is a big audience.

Anyways good luck. Also if one idea isn't bearing great fruit from the ideas above, others and mine...drop it and try another...and get help. These things do take time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

jOne analogy I'll offer: if I was a factory, I'd be running at 10% capacity right now. I couldn't handle 100 times the volume, but I could handle 10 times the volume (I think, (*)). I'm working like a dog - you have no idea how much (essentially, I have no life)

This is evident and appreciated - and FWIW I specifically tried to suggest things that are no extra work, or very little extra work. It is easy to say "hey, start selling new Hondas at $100 each and people will flock to your site" - when you aren't set up to sell Hondas nor can afford to lose $1000s on each sale. I instead have tried a few suggestions geared primarily to offer different ways to look at your product, and thus stimulate more ideas of better ways to sell that product.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Don:

....

I'd keep sending out PR pieces about interesting threads just as jayandstacey mentioned. There are a lot of newsworthy interesting threads here. They keep popping up. Any time one or more pick up those pieces it goes out to tons of new and potential readers and members.

2nd) I'd make the calendar invisible to non members. Then I'd start marketing and mentioning the deals. There are a lot of great deals there available to dr.com readers now. Make the readers or visitors become members. Then start marketing, mentioning, highlighting that feature. People love love love deals. Think groupon, LivingSocial and every other deal in the books. Try and get more deals. Folks love deals.

For every member...you have 3, 4, 5, 6-10 lurkers on the site. Try and give those folks more incentive to sign up rather than lurk.

Yes, yes, yes - this is exactly what I was thinking. The "come on" - entice them to visit the site by giving a nibble but making them come here to get more. Once they're here - give them a nibble but make them want more (the calendar, the deals) by becoming a member - or maybe for reaching milestones like 20 good posts, or 5 "like" posts. Incent and reward. Incent and reward. A facebook post should NEVER just say "Hey, Chef Smith just left Restuarant X" ...it should tempt someone to click to the site to see what change happened at X. And lurkers should always be incented to emerge from the darkness by accessing the offers.

This is encroaching on Yelp-ness, but there's nothing inherently bad about incent and reward.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This isn't so relevant to Yelp, but what strikes me when I read Tom Sietsema's chat and Chowhound's DC forum is the large number of help needed type questions. I wonder if it would increase membership if more people knew about the Help Needed forum.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As so often happens, there are hundreds (there are sometimes thousands) of comments, the vast majority of which are breathtakingly stupid, about half of which are dominated by partisan politics (the topic could be about the Large Hadron Collider, and by the tenth comment, people are arguing about the tea party and Obama), a precious few are absolutely brilliant, and 100% of them are buried and lost.

People feel the need to be heard, and comment threads on news sites seem to let them voice their (often vitrolic) opinions in a consequence-free environment. They have spread their WISDOM (and any deniers can be ignored/shouted down). Look at Twitter - that same need "to be heard" no matter the size/quality of the audience (and yes, I am guilty of that too).

The difference between someone who only shouts without listening (comments thread posters, Twitter users who don't interact with others, etc) and someone (for example) who posts here is that here, you have accountability, and you will be taken to task for what you say. And that's why it's higher quality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The difference between someone who only shouts without listening (comments thread posters, Twitter users who don't interact with others, etc) and someone (for example) who posts here is that here, you have accountability, and you will be taken to task for what you say. And that's why it's higher quality.

It has always bothered me that detractors have mocked the notion of "sacred cows" on this website. The reason there seems to be some favorites here (Palena, Komi, CityZen, etc.) is because these places really *are* good - thus, the members have a tendency to reach, if not a consensus, then at least what might appear to be a "group opinion," even though it's just a bunch of individuals independently arriving at the same conclusion.

The thing that's totally bogus is the inevitable, "... and God help you if you disagree!" which follows. There are probably a total of three people who accuse the community of this, but they make good and sure that their voices are heard, by damn!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Don Rockwell, the individual, DonRockwell.com, the (relatively) open discourse forum, and the incipient dcdining.com are, collectively, the single most valuable food, dining, culture and community resource this town has ever--or will ever--see.

However, it has lost its ability to revolutionize, democratize, innovate, stimulate, and engage the passionate dining, committed farmer and producer, foodways explorer, superlative home cook, wine and drink enthusiast (at all levels), and quality restaurant professional communities, having lost out to the "reach" of Yelp and Eater, the shamelessness of PoP Harvard comma and the unbreakable hegemony of Tom Sietsema.

I also fear it will not be able to sustain relevance or viability without the total destruction of Don himself.

My suggestion would be to do something totally radical, which would outstrip all of the other players, and which would create an immensely monetizable, entirely revolutionary model for passionate local food and dining coverage, which would also feed into the permanence and vitality of this site, capitalizing on and seizing the opportunity to innovate based on an emerging technology and an already culturally dominant milestone which has been strangely overlooked in the dining, foodways, oeno-agricultural and restaurant worlds.

That is, create a youtube channel, built off of and linked to this site, with interviews with chefs, line cooks, dishwashers, field trips to wineries farms and brewing/distilling facilities, cooking demos, short TED-like talks by the prodigious community of experts here, videographed memoirs of Joe H,, Eric Z., Yannick Cam, drink demos,mini documentaries on all of the subjects we discuss here every day, in short.

Content could be created by anyone and curated by Don, with or without Don as a participant.

Thierry Thiesse with Don and Mark in the fields of Champagne or filming a degorgement? Awesome!

Cathal in the kitchen--or training for a kickboxing tournament? Who wouldn't watch?

Sean Mike getting slapped in the face by a sorority girl at Mad Rose? Viral!

RJ and crew gearing up for Sturgis? How long has it been since this site was about assless chaps? Too long, I say!!!

Not just words about Ted Drewes versus some other place, but a short video with commentary and side-by-side comparisons.

Turn Don's reach (and that of this community he has built), connections, inexhaustible fields of knowledge (what caused Samuel Johnson's dyspepsia? I bet he would know) and the awesome power of this community into the new dominant technology of Youtube and other web-based channels, and there will be no limit to what he can achieve and where this can go.

If not, someone else will be the Steve Shaw or Tim Zagat of that medium and all of it's limitless potential--the only one I know worthy of that, and with the depth and breadth of knowledge and passion to pull that off, is Don.

Two-to-three minute video segments with poignant, incisive curating and commentary by an open-sourced team of passionate experts, professional and self-taught, is what the world wants right now.

And this site can remain as the vibrant, discursive record of it all.

Plus, each title of key word in each video would increase search results and cross-pollination either exponentially or by orders of magnitude.

Say I were to demo a Dover Sole being served table-side, just how many searchable and cross searchable elements would that one thing contain?

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If not, someone else will be the Steve Shaw or Tim Zagat of that medium and all of it's limitless potential--the only one I know worthy of that, and with the depth and breadth of knowledge and passion to pull that off, is Don.

Two-to-three minute video segments with poignant, incisive curating and commentary by an open-sourced team of passionate experts, professional and self-taught, is what the world wants right now.

And this site can remain as the vibrant, discursive record of it all.

Yup.

It isn't about being a better Yelp. It is about being the next thing - that transcends Yelp and renders it obsolete.

And I should have seen this. It is kind of obvious, yet keenly brilliant. And I think Mr. Landrum has it 'spot on' with the comparisons - using TED as an inspiration, open-source but moderated, youtube based, 3-4 minute bites.

I'll add to it by explaining why (I think) this matters:

1. Video conveys SOOO much more information SOOO much more quickly. A "quick-bite" review of a restaurant that is viewed vs read...the ambiance and dress code and such of a place are immediately conveyed. Portions and presentation style and type of clientele are evident without a word mentioned.

2. The desktop/laptop screen are no longer the primary access mode for such info, the handheld is. And sufficient bandwidth for handheld video is now common. People want a simple overview that visually gives them the comfort to say yes or no to a dining choice.

3. Websites are becoming less and less a source for information. The trick here is to make Don Rockwell data available in many places, with many different ways to view it.

So what do I mean by this? I believe that more and more, it will be apps and programs that feed such data. And this isn't a completely bad thing. As a simple example, I believe that Google Maps and GPS's will quickly become the platform for restuarant reviews - not Yelp or this site.

SOOO...if Don Rockwell has a large library of moderated and respected review videos, and these tools need content...guess who could sign a nice deal? Google Maps now has a video to go with many of the best places in town, and a GPS could load a few 100 videos right to the harddrive of the GPS as it is sold. cha-ching!!! (Have you seen the latest

notice it has no video reviews? Notice it is using a 3 minute video review to tout itself?)

Execution: As Mr. Landrum said, look to TED videos for style. Keep them short. Edit for a common feel. Have a standard 2 second intro and 10 second outro that invites people to the channel or page, or related DR videos. Index carefully and track who does what with each video and when (as these are somewhat perishable) and manage to freshness and relevance. Use this site to enable a simple way for people to submit their raw video reviews, then moderate by editing good ones and re-releasing them as Don Rockwell videos.

From 1994 to 1998 I owned a business that sold music on the internet and I lived exclusively on the internet sales. So I'm not just making this stuff up - And while the technology is different from 1998, the approach is still generally the same - you have to offer something of value while making the "shop" an appealing place to visit. This place has high value but somewhat low appeal; a text offering in a visually rich world. You have to be looking ahead at what tomorrow's internet will look like... (my business model in 1994 was to sell music singles over the internet, at a time when 99% of music sales were of full length CDs in stores. I sold my business in 1998 when it looked like my vision was going to be made impossible forever by the content owners [the music labels]. iTunes finally opened in 2003 - I was just 9 years too early and didn't own the content. You own the content.)

I know, this costs money and time and is a wholesale change to how you are doing things now. But it isn't a change at all to what you're doing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And if it helps convince you Don, remember that 3 minute video that Range produced prior to opening? My guess is that places would LOVE to feed you such video to help spread the word. I remember watching that (just a few months ago) and feeling 100% more ready to go there. Let others film and submit - reviewers, owners, whatever. Even when you wanted to make your "own" video (say, a Don Rockwell penned review set to video), you might ask readers to go and take some video, including the dishes that are reviewed. Someone will likely do it.

A simple editing tool and some time in the armchair is the expense here. Build a video factory and let people donate the raw materials.

(back in 1994, I'd sit in a room and record "radio shows" for my online business - about 10 minutes each week, playing snippets of songs and commenting on each one. It took about 30 minutes to produce and would help sell the records as people would visit the site and take a listen while browsing. The limitation was that 10 minute MP3s [a new format then, I had to link each file to the "free MP3 player"] were at the upper limit of bandwidth for most dial-up people.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ah...Michael Landrum. yet another excellent idea.

After all is said and done a forum for conversation with accountability wherein you are less than anonymous and can be called out...is by any measure immensely less likely to grow huge than a simple monetized highly commercial site like yelp.

It just doesn't occur. Having been in a number of forums and known forum operators, worked to expand the forums, been a mod....it is very rare when they grow dramatically. In general more people would rather not share openly than would. That has been the rule of thumb over years for many topics. Forums tend to attract lurkers in far far greater numbers than participants.

Video production is far less expensive than it was and video editing is far easier than it was.

Damn worthy idea IMHO.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ah...Michael Landrum. yet another excellent idea.

The man has vision. It is a brilliant idea (and nicely rounded out by jayandstacey's suggestions).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Angie's list is a lot like Yelp -- the "democratization" of reviews and opinions makes it less valuable, to me. I like to say that everyone is entitled to an opinion, they are simply not entitled to be right (correct). I've had poor results following Angie's list "advice." I find Checkbook.org (that specializes in the DC metro area) better but still not the greatest.

The basic problem with Yelp is that 4 stars doesn't equal 4 stars. Niether Angie nor Yelp has any empirical rating scheme.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Angie's list is a lot like Yelp -- the "democratization" of reviews and opinions makes it less valuable, to me. I like to say that everyone is entitled to an opinion, they are simply not entitled to be right (correct). I've had poor results following Angie's list "advice." I find Checkbook.org (that specializes in the DC metro area) better but still not the greatest.

The basic problem with Yelp is that 4 stars doesn't equal 4 stars. Niether Angie nor Yelp has any empirical rating scheme.

The biggest differences between Yelp, Angie's List and donrockwell.com, that I can see, are as follows:

Market Cap

Yelp: $1.9 Billion

Angie's List: $1.3 Billion

donrockwell.com: $0

Ummm ... investors? Are you ... there? I don't need quite this much money, you know.

Psssst ... we have over 200,000 page views a month, and we're in one tiny genre in primarily one market!

Psssst again ... yes, it's *very* expandable. What do you think I've been working on for the past five years?!

Psssst a third time ... we have never spent one single dime on marketing. Not a single dime. Think about it ...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The biggest differences between Yelp, Angie's List and donrockwell.com, that I can see, are as follows:

Market Cap

Yelp: $1.9 Billion

Angie's List: $1.3 Billion

donrockwell.com: $0

Ummm ... investors? Are you ... there? I don't need quite this much money, you know.

Psssst ... we have over 200,000 page views a month, and we're in one tiny genre in primarily one market!

Psssst again ... yes, it's *very* expandable. What do you think I've been working on for the past five years?!

Psssst a third time ... we have never spent one single dime on marketing. Not a single dime. Think about it ...

Yelp: $1.9 Billion

Angie's List: $1.3 Billion

donrockwell.com: integrity, no question

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just noticed something with regard to Yelp and negative reviews.

One of our business sites, the DC/Arlington Bartending School has carried one devastating slam review on Yelp for over 3.5 years. We Know it was planted by a competitor. We complained about it and tried to get it removed for about 8 months when it first showed. We started complaining about it again last year and for about 4 months. We sent yelp inside confidential information that we thought was sufficient to get them to acknowledge that the review was faked, subsidized by a competitor.

The original reviewer has probably not posted in two years and I believe only has 3 reviews in total.

As of today I noticed the review was removed from being shown and is now filtered. That had to occur recently in the last two weeks or so. Why??? Of course I don't know. Was it a delayed reaction to all our complaints and evidence? Was it b/c the reviewer hasn't posted anything in years and is no longer deemed a "reliable yelper" via Yelp's algo? Was it a combination of such events?

To all restauranteurs: check your yelp reviews. Have they changed any of their algo's in any ways and are different volumes or types of reviews being shown and/or filtered?

(If they call us again, as they did in Nov/Dec and Feb, abt advertising---I'll assume this move had everything to do with advertising and nothing to do w/ anything else ;) )

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Peter Shankman predicts Yelp will be out of business in 24 months, and puts $5000 down on it.

https://www.facebook.com/PeterShankman/posts/10151581535461674

I have a chance to be a total marketing slut right now by posting in the comments section :), and I'm not going to take it. :(

That said, we will be previewing our Philadelphia forum within the next week (you guys didn't even notice that the Philadelphia thread has been shrinking for the past few months). Stay tuned...   :wub: 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Peter Shankman predicts Yelp will be out of business in 24 months, and puts $5000 down on it.

https://www.facebook.com/PeterShankman/posts/10151581535461674

He'd be better off buying out of the money 2015 puts on YELP, which would theoretically have much greater upside and could still lead to a larger charitable donation even if the stock drops and not all the way to zero.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...