Patt Morrison for August 30, 2011

Yelp says their filter for online ratings is imperfect, but successful

Mercer 20670

Yelp.com

A review that a KPCC employee, Taylor Coffman, posted that was “filtered” by Yelp so that it does not appear on the business’s profile. Upon Taylor asking, the business told her that she had the wrong business, but Taylor found the business from the Yelp page. Yelp hasn't responded.

Vince Solitto, vice president of corporate communications for Yelp said Tuesday that the computerized algorithm his company uses to filter out false reviews is effective despite numerous complaints from reviewers and businesses.

“Frankly it is, while successful, imperfect,” he told KPCC's Patt Morrison. “But we do believe it's the best out there and if we didn't employ it then our content would have no value to consumers or businesses.”

He said the process can be frustrating to businesses who don't understand why a positive review might be flagged. There are a number of red flags for the company including a sudden spike in popular reviews. Reviews not written in the first person, or that include foul language or hate speech will also flagged for deletion.

“We basically use every signal that we can get about that review and that reviewer,” he said of the algorithm. The company also uses IP addresses and information reviewers use when they sign up with his service. He said the algorithm is in place to make sure his company shows the what Yelp has deemed the most trusted content that users can reply on. Reviews flagged for deletion by Yelp community members are reviewed by Yelp employees before deletion.

Last week Solitto firmly denied accusations of extortion made by Kathleen Richards, who reported on the issue, "Yelp reviews are written by real consumers about real businesses, and they serve as a helpful resource for more than 50 million consumers each month. I think because of that there's a great temptation on the part of some businesses to try to manipulate their own rating.”

Solitto has come under fire by companies and consumers that allege Yelp accepts money in return for boosting a business' reviews and removes positive rankings from those who decline to advertise with the company. Solitto said his salespeople operate under a sales script and are unable to offer anything of the sort.

The spokesman offered an alternative view to accusations and said what could be happening is a false correlation between two independent events. He said in some cases business owners may have seen positive reviews disappear around the same time they were were contacted to buy the Yelp advertising division to purchase ads, but that there was no linkage between the two events.

“[Reviews disappear] because our review algorithm doesn't have a sufficient degree of trust or confidence in that specific particular review. Which is unfortunate, but it's a reality in the online review space because some many businesses try to game the system,” he said.

The growing importance of consumer review systems, he said, causes this temptation. The site already has more than 20 million reviews, and has been shown to have real economic impacts on companies for better or for worse.

“If someone has a review that isn't showing, all I can surmise is that somehow is was caught by our filter. What I can say is that it wasn't done by a human, and it wasn't done maliciously,” said Solitto. “It was done by a computer program trying to protect our users. So far we believe it's working.”

WEIGH IN: Have you experienced extortion, defamation, or fake reviews on Yelp? Or have you had a positive experience?

Guests

Vince Sollitto, vice president of corporate communications, Yelp, Inc.


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