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The New York Times | AUG. 27, 2014

Why? Because the options are totally endless. When there’s too many places to go and only two stomachs to pack full of food, you have to act strategically. His first choice may not be what I had in mind, and then you have to factor in wait time, parking, and travel time among many other things. I think you get the gist of it.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, we always went to the restaurants we knew and loved, or those that popped up in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and my mom thought we should try. For the most part, we didn’t have lists of hot new places to hit or specific dishes to get once there. If we decided to visit (or avoid!) a restaurant based on a friend’s suggestion, it was certainly not because it had a rating out of out of 5 or seemed like the time of place we should be seen. That all changed a few years before I came to Emory.

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Henry Jenkins et al. describe Web 2.0 as a platform for creativity, collectivism and per production. In 2004, long before I was aware of its powers, Yelp began crowd-sourcing reviews of local businesses. The platform not only covers restaurants though; you can get the DL on nightlife, fitness and health services, shopping, etc. The idea being, instead of just hearing a few people’s thoughts on new restaurant A in Virginia Highlands, you can get 500 opinions.

In the restaurant sector, which appears to be the site’s most are of expertise, people upload photos, they give you recommendations on what to get, some restaurant pages even have their full menus on the site. Now there’s even a new Q&A feature!

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The bottom line is this: the whole shebang is centered around a business’s rating. It’s simple: the closer any place’s average rating is to 5, the more people are going to go there. And then of those patrons, some are bound to take the time to write a review. It keeps going on and on and on… and the whole cycle revolves around consumer choice.

As a sociology major who is fascinated by different populations and their behaviors, I must admit to thinking regularly about who is most likely to write online reviews and which businesses are most likely to benefit and suffer from this practice.

Alice Marlick and Theresa Senft & Safiya Umoja Noble discuss in their articles the ways in which belonging to a certain group or falling under a specific category can change the ways in which people interact with media.

In my own observations, I have come to think that those most likely to review a place on Yelp have either A) just had the most amazing experience ever! and cannot wait to share each and every detail with the World Wide Web or B) like the Dos Equis man in the meme above feel so strongly about a recent experience that they will stop everything to inform the public of the indecencies inflicted upon them at said restaurant or whatever.

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Additionally, in December 2016, Yelp released a factsheet highlighting its community, posts, visits, etc. by the numbers. I found the section above “US Demographics of Yelp Users” particularly noteworthy. As you can see, Yelp users tend to fall into a few categories: the 18-34 age bracket, college level of education, and $100K+ earned income.

The users are on the younger end, which I think is to be expected. But it is interesting that the numbers of 35 to 54-year-olds rating local businesses is nearly as much as their younger counterparts (37.7%).

The education percentages are crazy! Those posting on Yelp are really on the higher end of things. Nearly three-fourths of users are college educated or more.

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But then again, everyone’s thinking about rankings and ratings and scores these days, especially but not limited to Lacie from ‘Black Mirror’ Season 3, Episode 1! So much so, that Yelp’s of this and Yelp’s of that are popping up in alternative markets. Think Sweat Concierge for fitness classes and Leafly for marijuana just to name a few. There’s even RateMyProfessors 😉!!

A lot of people have weighed in on this so called, reputation economy, including Times reporter Maureen Dowd. It is such a 180 from the era of Michelin, whereby securing a star was determined by anonymous, secretive food critics. Now anyone, even my 8-year-old cousin, has this power.

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Yelp is not just about finding new places to eat or sweat, but knowing what to expect upon arrival. If you’re not into surprises, you can really use Yelp’s website and app to your advantage. You can even decide what to order before you’ve even been to a restaurant.

Expanding upon the works we read, I can’t help but wonder if restaurants that cater to and attract what danah boyd terms the “always-on” millennial crowd have a leg up when it comes to this business of rating. What will this mean for older, traditional spots? Are they going to be able to sustain the same amount of business in the long-term?

I know for my brother and I it has just made the process for restaurant selection an even harder one. Because if a place only has a 3.5, is it worth it or maybe it would be better to hit up somewhere else… A place in the 4.5 and up echelon where you know you’ll be treated well and leave happy.

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What other things has Yelp triggered since its humble 2004 beginnings? There’s a whole lifestyle out there filled with food Instagrams and Tasty videos. If you didn’t take a pic, I don’t know if it really counts to eat these days. Just kidding…

And so are Aziz Ansari and Jimmy Fallon in this video as they read “Bad Yelp Reviews.”

 

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