Ah, the joys of user-generated content (UGC), where everyone, including someone with an IQ equal to their shoe size gets his say. Very democractic, the Internet. Isn’t this what we were all waiting for? The problem is when everyone gets to have an equal say, who is to say whether the review is trustworthy or reliable? On the Internet, we’re all dogs.
So when I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the controversy around Yelp’s (a SF review decision to delete accounts of business people suspected of trading positive reviews with other businesses, I was neither surprised nor upset. Yelp has always deleted reviews it believes to be fake, but this time around, business owners are talking about filing a class action lawsuit against Yelp. What a mess, but a completely predictable one given the increasing significance of these review sites in helping people decide where to spend their money.
I have used Yelp, but only to locate places on the San Francisco map, for example, finding a yoga place in SOMA (south of Market). I have posted some reviews of restaurants I like (or actively dislike) but very few. I have not posted anything recently. I never rely on the reviews — why? Because I don’t know if the owner’s mother posted a favorable review or if it’s a particularly nasty one, if it is from a competitor. Most reviews are utterly worthless. They go on and on, often not about the restaurant but about the reviewer. And how do I know if the reviewer shares my taste in food or decor? What if he or she is reviewing a Filipino restaurant and has no idea what good Filipino food tastes like? I noticed on the review page of a friend’s restaurant, some people even complained about portion size. I have eaten at my friend’s place and I found the portion sizes to be more generous than I am capable of eating.
Yelp isn’t the only one with worthless reviews. Tripadvisor is also unreliable. A friend of mine booked a hotel in Sorrento based upon glowing reviews in Tripadvisor only to find, upon arrival, that the place was a total disaster.
Bottom line is you can’t trust these reviews because you don’t know the people — their biases, tastes, and motivations in posting them.