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Yelp.com: 'User-generated content', or extortion?

Can you trust a web site full of user-written reviews if the site's advertising sales people offer to manipulate which reviews are displayed first?

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This is certainly about Boston; Yelp's presence in Boston is growing and the community is very strong.

Before you judge, though, please also read Yelp's official reply (and follow-ups):

http://officialblog.yelp.com/2009/02/kathleen-rich...

http://officialblog.yelp.com/2009/02/conspiracy-th...

http://officialblog.yelp.com/2009/02/east-bay-expr...

(Skip to the spoiler? It's just user-generated content.)

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The Yelp responses don't really shed any light on the matter - they're just what one would expect regardless of whether or not the allegations were true.

Fwiw, I've heard similar grumbles from some business folk I know here in Boston, but I also know several who are huge fans of the yelp community and credit the site as a factor in their success.

I've been using the site for a long time, and have submitted a dozen or so reviews myself. I often find it very useful, but I have to admit that on a couple of occasions, I've seen reviews (not mine) that I thought were pretty legit disappear from the site and wondered why.

The comments after the East Bay article would suggest that there are folks throughout the country with similar stories. I guess if yelp salepeople are being as blatant about this as the story makes out, they're going to get tapped for extortion somewhere, sooner or later (but IANAL, natch).

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