I Don’t Believe In Yelp!

If you live in one of multiple American metropolitan areas, you are likely familiar with Yelp! The concept is pretty simple in that you log in, create your profile, and begin reviewing business establishments. Their mainstay is restaurants. In the case of Los Angeles, there are a whole gambit of places to eat – so I think it’s safe to say that I live in the center of one of Yelp!‘s target demos. In a place where you never run out of places to eat, you will certainly run across some pretty shoddy food and/or service once in awhile.

So then, you’d think that it follows that hip Angelenos who want good recommendations on where to eat and where to avoid might thank their lucky stars that there’s Yelp! to help them figure that out.

A little over a year ago was when I really heard about it blowing up. It was also when I first created my profile. I have probably reviewed random places I’ve eaten 11 times since then, which is certainly no match to really active Yelp! users. I see there are “elite” members in that they have written over a certain number of reviews (100, I believe).

So then, you’d think that it follows that these elite reviewers really know what they’re talking about since they’re pros at writing reviews on the internet.

Just wait a minute.

Okay now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have not delved deep into the site enough to really have given it a good, thorough assessment for the purposes of this post. But there were reasons why I’ve remained lukewarm and even cold on the site. See, I tried reviewing establishments in order to – *cough* – establish myself and proceed to maximize my usability. Not long after, I found that it took more time than I wanted to invest. I simply was just not interested.

As far as from the point of view where I was searching for an establishment inside a category (i.e. “Mexican food”) that I had never tried before, I would often notice places that I not only already knew about but thought were mediocre or even sub-par get rated with 5 stars (out of 5). Now, if a restaurant had 50 or even 100 reviewers calculated into this average, I just didn’t think it was worth my time to make my case. After all, you can’t argue with the mob.

But you can leave it.

I’ve just revealed the key ingredient on my dismay with the site. If there were dozens of averaged reviews I did not agree with, why would I invest any further energies with their host?

So already:

  1. I don’t trust Yelp! reviews because I find their concensus wildly different from my own opinions on the same establishments, thereby making me reluctant to seek their advice on other establishments, and
  2. I didn’t really feel it worthwhile to write reviews in order to “correct” said concensus on places as it seems that they would only be a drop in the bucket anyway, and
  3. Quite frankly, I would rather spend my online time elsewhere.

A particular review I came across about a semi-exclusive place in Hollywood alarmed me as to the sophistication of the reviewers, themselves. (Oh yes, I’m going there.) She complained about being charged for dessert for the Birthday Boy in their party, “despite the fact that the waiter asked if we would like to bring out a Birthday dessert for our guy – so naturally I assumed it would be free. Ends up they actually CHARGED us for it.”

‘Scuse me? Free? In Hollywood? Oh honey, you haven’t even found out about the $16 per top shelf drink (mixed), yet.

I thought it might be a fluke review so I clicked through to her profile. “Elite reviewer” was her title.

Far be it from me to judge an entire website based on one person, but I found disastrous reviews all over the place. So let’s see here. You think “elite” reviewers have been all over LA and therefore experienced tons of eateries, thus knowing the best places to go in the city – or do you think that that time is instead spent at home on the internet actually writing said reviews?

Because there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a month – to be also detailing your adventures on the internet. I would much rather be out enjoying the decor, savoring the food, absorbing the atmosphere, and going on to the next establishment to do the same thing. But you know, some people would rather go home and post their spin on it on the web so others could envy, consult or gawk at their literature (or did I say something before about a drop in the bucket?).

I read a lot of food blogs, and potentially learn great new spots from them. But I think the reason for that is that they have a larger accountability for what they say – and that is how they earn my trust. Yelp! on the other hand, is like the Poor Man’s Food Blog. People think that what they say will make a difference – yet make their reviews an opportunity to get on a soapbox or recount a really funny thing that happened at the restaurant rather than actually articulating a review, and then allocate stars according to that funny episode. You can give reviews “funny” or “cool” points – so you see people going for that sort of online validation through, for instance, poems. Seriously. What is this, again? A restaurant review? Oh yeah.

Here’s a clue. If it’s already on Yelp!, too many people have probably already found out about it and the quality has decreased since it’s been good, and/or you’re going to have to wait 45 minutes to get a table for brunch. Here’s a tip: Get out there, make some friends. Get a recommendation from someone who shares something in common with you. Go with that recommendation.

That’s not to say that Yelp! is not useful. This is how to enjoy Yelp!:

  1. Save “http://m.yelp.com” on your cell phone browser
  2. Whenever you need an address or phone number, go to this URL to look up the establishment. Ignore reviews. Bingo. Online directory.

Then again, you could always use Citysearch.

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