Cry for Yelp

The popular Web site has buckled to pressure, but it isn't enough.

In San Mateo, just south of San Francisco, Mary Seaton parrots Taylor almost word for word. She has owned the Sofa Outlet furniture store for 14 years and says she'll be satisfied only if businesses can opt out of the site. Yelp should explain the algorithm that decides placement and deletion of reviews, says the Californian, who calls the recent change by the firm a "nonsolution."

"As a business owner, being able to see deleted reviews still offers me no insight into how the algorithm actually works, " she adds.

(Vince Sollitto, a Yelp spokesman, says his employer will never discuss the algorithm, because if businesses understood how it works, they'd "game the system.")

C. Stiles

Finally, there's George Vanhoek, who owns Wag My Tail, a dog-grooming service in Tujunga, a far northern suburb of Los Angeles. He says satisfied customers often mentioned the negative reviews that hovered at the top of his profile after he declined a $450-per-month Yelp membership.

"Whether a review is good or bad, it should stay up, period," he says. "That's the only fair way to do business."

Beck says he might soon file another amended complaint to add the dozens of plaintiffs who have hired his firm in the past month. Or he might just use their complaints as evidence that Yelp's victims should be certified as a class.

Yelp, meanwhile, seems to be preparing for the worst. On March 31, the company sent a letter to a paid "scout" (new-market reviewer) in the Midwest. The note mentioned that reviewers were accused of being "agent[s] of coercion" and that the scout should preserve materials related to 15 companies in California, New York, Seattle, D.C. and Chicago. (View a scanned version of the letter at Yelp has also asked a Los Angeles federal judge to dismiss the case. A hearing is set for May 3.

Atif Mehana hired Beck as his lawyer last week. But the restaurant owner is unsure how much the courts can do to help him because his eatery, Captain Joe's Seafood and Pasta Grill, went out of business this past December. Last weekend, he held a yard sale to raise money so he doesn't lose his home.

"They affected my business very badly. People were afraid to come in and try us out," he says. "I lost all my investment. I took out money, a credit line. We have nothing now, nothing."

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