Why Yelp Is Losing Ground To Its Rivals

by John Bixby on January 26, 2014

In the world of local content and reviews, Yelp is the 800 pound gorilla. These days it seems like businesses are at its mercy for success and often find themselves going out of their way to cater to Yelp users with clout. Many small businesses can also tell you stories of being victims of the dreaded “Yelp reviews filter” which attempts to filter out fake reviews but often snags legitimate reviews in the process. I know of several cases first-hand where this has happened.

When Yelp first started getting popular back in 2006/2007, it provided a breath of fresh air to the approach of the front-runner of the time, CitySearch. Real people, real reviews. Yelp used all the tricks in the book to get people to care about writing meaningful commentary on local businesses on a regular basis, and it was a pioneer in merging the online and offline worlds by hosting Yelp Elite events where avid users could connect and get freebies.

This strategy served Yelp well for a long time. But this is 2014. Their current strategy has several flaws, and competitors like Foursquare and Ness are gaining ground quickly. Let me highlight some of what’s currently wrong.

* Yelp elects Elite members based on quantity and quality of reviews. But we’ve moved to a mobile world. Users have shifted to mobile, and the majority of local searches are now happening on mobile devices. When a business has 200 reviews, do you think anyone has the time or desire to read through all of them, marveling at the creativity of the reviewer who wrote 5 paragraphs?

* Reviews are dead. When a user is searching for a business, they want to know many things as quickly as possible. Startups like Foursquare and Ness are nailing the new equation. They provide suggestions based on what’s hot in your area, time of day, and things you typically like. It’s data scientist-programmed algorithms vs. questionably motivated UCG. I have a lot more faith in the former, based on the suggestions I’ve seen from these new apps.

* Yelp still prizes reviews, but when searching for quick information on a business, content like photos, quick tips, aggregations of user comments, recent check-in frequency, etc. are much more helpful. Yelp’s still living in a CitySearch world when the rest of the world has moved on. Recent functionality enhancements to their mobile app are largely “me too” efforts to catch up to Foursquare.

Yelp is still in a good strategic position due to their massive content base, but unless they come to terms with the way users currently search for local business information, they’re at risk of being dethroned by new entrants to the space. Current trends are all about temporal, personalized recommendations, delivered in a quickly digestible format.

Share this post:

    { 0 comments }

    SF MusicTech Summit XII

    by John Bixby on April 27, 2013

    This past February I had the opportunity to attend the 12th SF MusicTech Summit, thanks to a last-minute guest pass from Girls In Tech. Having been involved with both music and tech for the vast majority of my life, I was doubly excited for the event. It had been ages since I’d been to an event like this one. I think the last had been the Digital Music Forum West back in 2007 in Los Angeles.

    registration desk
    registration desk

    San Francisco has long been known as a home to pioneers, risk-takers, creative types, and forward thinkers. Having just relocated to the area from Seattle a few months prior, I was eager to check out a summit that converged around two of my favorite things – music & technology – and was taking place in my new city. Would I encounter the curly-mustached skinny jean wearing hipsters holding cans of PBR at breakfast that I was accustomed to seeing in Seattle? Would I encounter the glammed-out name dropping music execs I saw hanging out in Hollywood when I attended the Digital Music Forum West conference? After a short Uber hop from the Caltrain station over to Hotel Kabuki in Japantown, I was about to find out.

    yours truly :)
    yours truly :)

    The first session I attended was on centered around how we’ll experience music in the future. A colorful session to say the least, with lots of heated opinions from the audience in response to some of the panelists. The first thing that struck me was the interesting backgrounds the speakers had. People from Sonos, a founding member of Gang of Four, a professor with branding experience, and a Skype/Rdio exec. A lot of the topics that came up were ones I’ve seen discussed in music circles for a while now – Will streaming ever become mainstream? How do we deal with big record companies who are a total pain?

    future of music panel
    future of music panel

    The exec from Rdio shared the insight that there’s a huge longtail of songs/artists in their vast online music library that receive few/no plays. So the challenge becomes how do you surface those artists to users? There’s a massive curation challenge when there’s so much music out there, and so many new songs being uploaded by users every day. It’s a challenge I remember from my days during my internship at Rhapsody – how do you get users to dig into your music collection and understand the value of a streaming service, when everything under the sun is at your fingertips? Apparently there’s no easy answer to this, because it’s a question the music industry has been struggling with for the last 9 years.

    this guy kept interrupting the panelists
    this guy kept interrupting the panelists

    Other interesting tidbits from this session included a quote from Dave Allen, who said “You don’t have to like wearing vests to like Mumford and Sons.” Totally random, but totally classic. As with any conference filled with music folks, there were a lot of F-bombs being thrown around, and a lot of strong reactions from the audience in response to new ideas about technology & the impact it might have. One panelist spoke about how new algorithms can simulate human playing and someday we might be able to program sequences that are indistinguishable from real playing. This drew a really heated response from the audience and one person who’s daughter was a pianist. “How can you possibly replace a real person? My daughter is a professional that’s trained for years, it’s impossible!” While I get her point, I also saw it as a reaction against change. “We’re human, we’re important.” We all want to believe it. But sometimes it’s just not true.

    attendees in the networking lounge at SF Music Tech XII
    attendees in the networking lounge at SF Music Tech XII

    Another interesting session I attended was one on digital DJ’ing. Lots of things in the game have changed since I started out 13 years ago. Turntables are dead. Vinyl is dead. Modern DJ’s are using a mix of Ableton, Traktor, etc. and mixing not just full songs, but also snippets and other interesting clips into their mixes. The evolution of DJ controllers has catered to this new trend. The latest offerings from Numark, Native Instruments, etc. all have drum pads built in to the usual platter/mixer elements to let DJ’s cue and trigger additional elements. An exec from Beatport talked about how they were now offering “remix sets” that were packages that offered songs broken down into individual elements to give DJ’s more flexibility.

    While still in its nascent stages, it’s a really exciting concept, and I’m really excited to see how the next crop of musicians and DJ’s will push things forward. If the indications from SF Music Tech XII are any indication, the future is bright!

    the Beatport DJ booth
    the Beatport DJ booth

    Share this post:

      { 0 comments }

      Top 10 Tips for People Relocating to Seattle

      November 23, 2012

      Tweet Recently I was thinking about what advice would I give to people thinking about relocating to Seattle. I’ve lived here for a bit now, and here’s my list Top 10 list of tips: Don’t move to Belltown. It’s a trap so many transplants fall into. Most people I know who have been here a […]

      Share this post:
        Read the full article →

        Google Analytics Tips: Data Caveats

        May 24, 2012

        Tweet I’ve been using Google Analytics heavily for about six months now (was using Omniture previously) and have come across some quirks after seeing data that didn’t make sense to me when trying out different things. Here are some tips that I wish I had been aware of when I was starting out. 1) GA […]

        Share this post:
          Read the full article →

          1-click Christmas: A Solution For Those Who Hate Shopping

          December 17, 2011

          Tweet When Xmas time comes around, do you dread having to think of gifts to buy for people? Do you fear crowded shopping malls and crazy people trying to hijack your parking spot? Well so do I. And I have an idea for Amazon, who might be able to help me solve this problem. Amazon […]

          Share this post:
            Read the full article →

            Clicks by Provider…A Theme Song For Web Analytics

            September 12, 2011

            Tweet After spending a day at work in Excel spreadsheets and churning out some analyses, I found myself starting to go a little batty. In an attempt to take a break and change up the pace for a bit, I was inspired to write a web analytics theme song. So, with a few slight edits […]

            Share this post:
              Read the full article →

              Social Media Tools For Professionals & Networking

              May 7, 2011

              Tweet Twitter – Signal to noise ratio is low, which is why following everyone who chooses to follow you doesn’t work. I use Twitter for news and commentary from thought leaders in my industry. I try to keep my follow list to around 100-150 max otherwise it’s usefulness fades. Tip: don’t follow people who just […]

              Share this post:
                Read the full article →

                Nested tags in Gmail

                November 29, 2010

                Tweet For the longest time, one of my biggest frustrations with Gmail and its tagging system was that I use a ton of tags and my list of 30+ tags was starting to get out of control. I liked folder systems in programs like Outlook because I could create sub-folders and wished Gmail could do […]

                Share this post:
                  Read the full article →

                  Poll: Creative Design or User Experience Fail?

                  September 8, 2010

                  Tweet Curious to get people’s thoughts on this one. Vote below! Share this post: Tweet

                  Share this post:
                    Read the full article →

                    Getting started with SEO? Here are some tips…

                    July 10, 2010

                    Tweet New to the world of SEO? Scratching your head as to where you can begin learning more? Read on! There are a lot of interesting online tools out there for SEO. SEOMoz has some free site assessment tools, and the Pro toolset is actually very handy for assessing how your site fares against the […]

                    Share this post:
                      Read the full article →