This year I plan on writing about interesting social software and social networking, and Yelp is my first target.
I really like it. It comes down to two things: a well-designed review site is a great idea, and Yelp is very nicely laid out. It proves once again that being first or biggest in a category does not necessarily mean you can’t have your ass whipped by a better idea. Not that Yelp has whipped anyone’s behind yet. But if I were Citysearch, I would pay attention. (Disclosure: a close friend recently became Yelp’s VP Marketing).
Yelp’s thoughtfulness in the web experience becomes evident if you spend time on Tripadvisor or Citysearch. I am a Tripadvisor user, I really want them to succeed, but the mix of advertising, search, and content is poor. The valuable content on Tripadvisor shows communities will form around reviews, yet Tripadvisor’s execution is flawed. Citysearch has become a de facto yellow pages, but the reviews have lost any meaning. More important, Citysearch has no character that might truly engage a visitor.
Yelp, however, is employing some social networking tricks starting with your own url, friends, various types of ‘pokes’ (That’s a Facebook term) or ways to touch others, and even creating personal lists like “Wineries” (OK I live in California) or “Cheap Restaurants” or about anything you like. In fact, it can get rather nutty when someone reviews “Boyfriends”. And that edge to Yelp is the beauty of it. Yelp certainly has some grip on what is hip.
There are things I don’t like. Primarily it’s annoying viral marketing tactics. When you join, you are urged to invite a bunch of friends. While social networks are about connections, I may not want this right away, and I may find this intrusive. I also dislike being asked every time I do a review who I want to send it to. These features should be available and off to the side.
Yelp is so well laid out I could even see us at Atlassian learning from what they have done on the personal page in creating an eye-catching template for a personal wiki page on our Confluence enterprise wiki. That may get some of our killer engineering team excited, but looks matter. Even in enterprise software.
What does Yelp need to worry about? #1 How to make money without pissing off the community? I am not privvy to their numbers, but it fairly safe to say they have a road ahead of them. There’s the You-Tube-It-Doesn’t-Matter business model, but that’s risky particularly the longer this bubble lasts. #2 Not becoming a pile of doo-doo reviews where everything adds up to 4 stars in a happy eBay-review kind of way. But Yelp has a ‘social networking’ pony in the barn to address this. What if I could filter to just my friends’ or respected favorites’ reviews? Then things could get very cool.