Sunday, May 2, 2010

Yelp! Reviews by unqualified individuals who think they are experts

Don't get me wrong, I often use Yelp! to both gauge restaurants I would like to try as well as find the local hot spot, or "good eats".  Unfortunately, with every useful review there are 10 others that are completely useless and ignorant.  This is what I call "noise" in the reviews.  These comments often skew the actual review of the restaurant.  Too bad Yelp! only cares about making money and Search Engine Optimization and nothing about actual quality of review.

Most "Americans" don't realize that Chinese food does not consist of what you find in PF Chang and Panda Express.  Going to an authentic restaurant expecting flavors that were created to cater to the American palate is ignorant to say the least.  After ordering such dishes, proclaiming it hasn't been done correctly (how can one gauge the correct way to make incorrect food?), condemning the restaurant and the cuisine as a whole is ridiculous. This is basically like me going to The French Laundry or Manresa expecting a hamburger, French fries, and milkshake.  Alternatively, it is not realistic for me to go to McDonald's expecting Foie Gras and a juicy steak.

Yelp! of course propagates this perception of "power to the people" with Yelp! Elite.  Yelp! Elite rewards users who create the most content (for SEO purposes), regardless of the quality of an user's review or their expertises.  My translation of an individual who is a Yelp! Elite is someone who has way too much free time and should probably have spent more time working.  If I was a boss, I could probably search online for my employees who are Yelp! Elite members and instantly get a productivity boost replacing them with individuals who actually work.

At the risk of alienating myself, I would almost suggest as part of an user's profile they should very much ask for race as well as origin of birth.  Maybe education and how cultured someone is should play into the ability an user can review a restaurant as well.  Back in the days of professional food critics, they were experienced, and although mean, fully able to accurately rate a restaurant.  I have tried many 3.5 to 4-star rated restaurants on Yelp! that tasted horrible.  If you need any more evidence, consider how great the pool of critics must be if McDonald's is rated at some places 4-stars.  This is why to this day, and from what I can foresee, the Michelin Star rating is so relevant and prevalent.

Lastly, I do have to concede that not every restaurant is good at every single element of a culture's cuisine.  They usually have a handful of dishes that they excel at.  For example, Su Hong in Palo Alto makes great Xiao long bao and sheng jian bao, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend them for other dishes like Zha jiang mian.  Everyday Beijing in San Mateo, a restaurant I tried with coworkers and my girlfriend recently, has good dumplings and the best that we can deduce a "meat pie" but I wouldn't recommend their peanut noodle dish or their xiao long bao.

Maybe some day Yelp! would figure out an algorithm to sort through and filter out the noise.  Maybe one of the way to do that is to only allow individuals to recommend dishes.  Either way, until that day comes, the consumer rated revolution is creating a pretty dismal future with an influx of self proclaimed "foodies".

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