Yelp sucks – that was the subject line of an email I sent to my sister recently. It came after I discovered a review I had written was not immediately visible to the world at large.

A web-centric mailing list I am on recently had a discussion about Yelp. The discussion centered on how to combat negative reviews, and other than reading it out of curiosity, at first it had no immediate relevance to me. Then the discussion turned to reviews not showing at all and Yelp contacting people to induce them to pay to hide negative reviews – now, I want to make it clear, I have no proof to this claim, I am just reporting on what was said.

Once that was said, though, it did make me think I should go check on a review I had written. It was most decidedly negative – a few years ago when I realized my elderly cat, Aggravation, was dying, I tried to make an appointment with his regular vet ASAP. I called in tears and told them my cat was dying, but they didn’t even try to fit me in until almost a week later.

This uncaring behavior from the people who were supposed to care about my cat’s health and well-being was disturbing, and I thought it was something potential clients should know about, so I wrote a review on Yelp. Well, the review was not there… or I should say, it was there, but not immediately obvious, and you had to jump through a few hoops to find it.

Supposedly it had been tagged by Yelp’s review filter as not legitimate. You can read Yelp’s official blog post about it at http://officialblog.yelp.com/2009/10/why-yelp-has-a-review-filter.html.

Whether my review was truly filtered or someone paid to have it hidden, I can’t say, but I have issues with both.

I think it is clear why I would object to my review being hidden because the company wanted it to go away, so I won’t address that, but while I understand the need to protect the system from abuse, there needs to be a way to let the legitimate reviews be seen.

My issue is primarily with the combined ideas that “Our filter takes a conservative approach and errs on the side of protecting the consumer, when necessary.” and “Our Support team cannot manually restore reviews that have been filtered” (this quote is from the Contact Yelp page, after you select missing reviews as your issue). I would argue that making a review available that tells my story (or one of the other negative reviews that have been filtered) is “protecting the consumer.” If their filters mistakenly ID a review as non-legitimate, but once the error is discovered, there is no way for Yelp personnel to correct it, they aren’t protecting the consumer.

No automated system will ever be perfect when it comes to making decisions like this, so to do the job properly, there needs to be a manual override.