Is Yelp a business, community service or not for profit? Paging Comrade Lenin.

Calley Nye wrote today about Yelp and its impact on companies reviewed there.  Yelp presents itself as a place where the community can gather to share its experiences with businesses — and Yelp likes to invoke conversation as a core concept.  The site is gaining in popularity, and negative reviews can break a business, particularly a restaurant.  So businesses are forming alternate sites to combat the effect. 

Why don’t these businesses just bring the argument or discussion to Yelp?  Because Yelp won’t let them.  Yelp does not permit businesses to respond one way or the other to a review.  This is a shame, because the young company is leaving valuable conversation on the table.  And missing the point of social media.  

Or at least that’s how a lot of people see it.  I’m starting to notice a devilish little trend among startups that seek to change the world.  They reap the benefits of a capitalistic structure without contributing to it.  In this case, Yelp could be helping to evangelize the importance of companies listening to and actually talking with customers — and Yelp could be setting itself up as the nexus of the interaction

Instead, the company is kidding itself — or trying to kid us — into thinking it is leveling the playing field by going after nasty business owners and putting more power into the hands of the “community.”  That businesses are not part of the community! 

Wait a minute.

Is Yelp a business?  And if so,  because Yelp’s CEO [a business term] created a loyalty hierarchy consisting of community, consumers and businesses, as articulated to none other than THE NEW YORK TIMES, into which category does Yelp fall?  Finally, by whose universal standard are Yelp-reviewed businesses measured?  If the answer is the community’s, then who decides the community?  Or are we going to check with Comrade Lenin via seance?

I love it when a startup presents itself as anti-establishment as it indulges in the third oldest profession to make money.  That would be advertising.

Anyway, I find it hard to believe that Yelp’s mission is either noble or democratic.  At least, not any more than any other business trying to launch, make money and do business ethically.  So let’s use Yelp for what it is — a repository of reviews we can use for information but for nothing more.  And let’s not be used by it.

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