No longer (Yelp) cool

Just a year ago, two of my most powerful Internet addictions were Yahoo Fantasy Sports and Yelp. Now, I hardly think about either one.

Yelp made me ‘Elite‘ in 2007, which was a nice surprise. By the end of that year, however, my review pace had really tapered off, so I was even more surprised they made me Elite again in ’08. I’m almost certain it won’t happen again this time around. I don’t think I wrote more than a dozen reviews this year. I haven’t even hit 100 – a milestone I had expected to reach a long time ago.

The capper came this week when I tried to RSVP for the Yelp holiday party at the Exploratorium. I was politely rejected. So much for Elite status. That makes two entire years of Eliteness without a single Yelp party to show for it. Every Elite soiree I tried to RSVP to was full before I even saw the announcement in my inbox. I scored a pass to the holiday party of ’06 – at the California Academy of Sciences – but a long time friend of mine made a surprise visit to SF that weekend, and Yelp wouldn’t let me in with my impromptu guest. I don’t blame them. I’m just saying.

So what happened? Why don’t I Yelp anymore?

For one thing, I got really busy. Rarely in my career have I been as busy as I was this past summer, and any non-essential web activity all but ceased for several months. Then, after the busy time, there was a recovery period during which I lacked the brain power for the kind of pith and wit Yelp demands.

Mainly though, I just didn’t have very many truly notable restaurant experiences. I’m just not motivated to write a three-star review for a three-star experience that basically met my expectations.

Even on the rare occasion when I was wowed – by an amazing 11-course tasting menu at Coi on my birthday for example – it just felt somehow pointless to put my own opinion on the pile with 140 others. I’d give it four or five stars, which is what it’s averaging. I’d praise it for things that have been said 120 times already. And for restaurants like Coi, there are always a handful of haters with their one-star reviews. Someone’s piece of chicken was raw in the middle. Someone thought the waiter got snippy. Someone had to wait til 8:35 for a table, even though the reservation was for 8:00.

Every restaurant the same. Well, it’s more accurate to say there are a few archetypes:

There’s the fine dining restaurant that lives up to the hype (like Coi). Average of 4.5 stars but with five or six one star reviews (see above) and about twice that number of three-star reviews by people who adore a similar restaurant in another city.

There’s the beloved neighborhood joint. Again, average of 4-5 stars but from a huge number of reviews. Again, there are a few one-star reviews from people who don’t understand the concept of low-brow.

And so on.

The rest are meh restaurants that have – and deserve – a plurality of three-star reviews. Middle-of-the-road. Again, why bother reviewing these?

I used to live for the feedback I’d get when I posted a review. I still think Yelp’s system of compliments and the useful, funny, cool ratings are utter genius.

I’m still a huge consumer of Yelp. I use it all the time to decide where to eat. I basically use it as my Yellow Pages whenever I need to find or contact a local business. The integration of Google Maps – both on the website and in the iPhone app – is about as elegant as a UX can get. For that matter, the overall experience of Yelp is one of the best on the web, and I steal from it all the time when I’m designing apps or making recommendations to clients.

So what could get me contributing again?

  • Yelp could encourage freshness (of reviews) by ‘retiring’ old ones to an archive or at least weighting the more recent reviews more heavily in the average. I have a hard time penning a review for a place that already has several hundred, especially when the average score is exactly what I’d give it.
  • Yelp makes it easy – with Bookmarks – to keep track of places you’ve been or want to go, but after you bookmark a place, it’s easy to forget about it. Yelp could do more with these bookmarks – emailing reminders for example. And what if I could reply to the reminder with my review – email my review directly to my Yelp account? I would love that.
  • More widgets and access through other channels. The ability to email reviews directly to my Yelp account would be great. A Facebook app would be nice. Maybe a Firefox add-on or a Mac OS widget. I find myself visiting actual websites less and less.
  • Twitter. I wish I could drive traffic to my reviews by automatically tweeting whenever I post one.
  • The girls of Yelp. Where is the love? You used to comment on my profile, send me compliments, private messages. No more… sigh.

Maybe I’ll come back to the Yelp fold one of these days, but until then, I still love y’all.

2 Replies to “No longer (Yelp) cool

  1. I love the idea of only showing recent reviews. I’d love to see a month over month rating to see if the place is getting better, worse or just staying average.

    I put together a little yelp/google maps mashup a while back with the goal of finding something within x distance of my office. I never finished it, but it still comes in handy every now and then.

    Glad to see u writing again Smitty 🙂

  2. Update: Yelp is giving me a shot at keeping my Elite status. They sent me an email with friendly encouragement to “step it up” in 2009. I love those guys. I’ll get back into the swing. Promise.

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