Reputation Bank Yelp’s Problem With Its Own Reputation

(image from Internet Deformation Blog)

The recent legal dispute between Yelp and a veterinary hospital in Long Beach has once again highlighted the clash between local business review site Yelp and local business groups under an intense media spotlight. This is not the first time Yelp was accused by businesses of manipulating reviews for financial gain. Yelp, as a business, is thriving by providing an objective account of local businesses’ reputation, and has thus become a trustworthy “reputation bank”. It stores and spreads the impact of reputation with new social media technology. And we all know that among all businesses, the business of banking is one that is based fundamentally on reputation. In this sense, there is no doubt that as a “reputation bank”, Yelp itself should be much more cautious about their own reputation, and handle their monetization process with more care and thoughtfulness in the future.

The objectivity and fair treatment of people’s reviews is a promise Yelp has made with its large army of volunteer reviewers. As stated by Clay Shirky in his book Here Comes Everybody, this kind of mutual agreement and mutual expectation between the website and its users, called a “bargain”, along with the promise and tools provided, are the three essential elements that make an online communities work. The founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales has made a bargain with Wikipedia’s contributors that the wiki platform will forever be free and available source of knowledge for people, and he later adopted the GNU Free Documentation License to reassure contributors of this original bargain.

I can totally see how Yelp began with a legitimate promise to its reviewers that the site would summon the collective strength of all its Yelpers to improve the services of local business and hold them accountable; it also utilized a set of effective tools, such as open online forums for public comments that other users could quickly jump into and contribute to, and features that established social ties and recognition between members, thus encouraging contribution to the community. The bargain was also legitimate: Yelp would objectively use its Yelpers’ contributions for a good cause, and even though Yelp is a profit-driven firm, this implicit expectation of them to place this cause as their top priority above pure financial gain was also a bargain written into their original “contract” with users.

Yelp was doing a good job in the past and built up their good reputation as a trustworthy destination for reviews of local businesses by keeping up with the three elements. But if it decides to breach this bargain with its users, and place their financial goals ahead of objectively displaying reviews, that would likely ruin Yelp’s credible reputation, and could lead to catastrophic consequences if contributors and users who base their decisions on trusting Yelp feel that trust has been breached.

At the same time, this fierce and public collision between local businesses and a reputation-storing/spreading bank like Yelp has also called much attention to how local businesses should handle the impact of this new generation of reputation-rating. Where prior e-commerce ratings by customers on sites like Amazon and eBay only affected other e-commerce participants, buyers, and sellers, Yelp’s reviews are directly impacting businesses whose primary day-to-day transactions occur offline and didn’t necessarily choose to participate in e-commerce. In the next blog post, I will discuss how local business should respond to this new wave of impact from the electronic reputation storage and spreading system and actively build their positive reputation in the virtual world.


Four New Media Journalism Forays Into L.A.’s Local Communities

In the past two months, I have been lucky to sit in on four Annenberg noon seminars that have all explored a common theme: how journalism equipped with new media technologies could better serve local communities, and what opportunities new communication technologies have brought to many previously media under-served communities in the Greater Los Angeles area. I was glad to see that even though new media has, to a large extent, facilitated the globalization process and shifted people’s focus to a bigger scope, yet under this globalization context, our local communities are not being ignored but are instead being injected with vitality through the innovative usage of new communication technologies.

Alhambra Project

This project is under the umbrella of the USC Annenberg Metamorphosis and Intersections project. The project’s early research of the media supply in the area revealed a lack of common storytelling networks that bridge local ethnic groups together, thus leading to a low civic engagement rate in the area. The project thus will focus on building a shared multi-lingual storytelling network for Alhambra‘s diverse ethnic local residents, and hopes to increase the low civic engagement rate in Alhambra and also explore a new model for supplying media in culturally diverse local communities in the United States.

AOL‘s Patch:

AOL’s has committed $50 million to build a nationwide network of hyperlocal news sites. At the seminar, Marcia Parker, the west coast editorial director of, claimed that the site is robustly growing and opening more and more branches in many cities, so L.A. is a new battle ground. They are also currently scouting for community reporters who are rooted in L.A.‘s local communities and will bring 100 percent community-flavored news to their site and to their audience.

Radio Bilingue

Through L.A. Public Media Service Radio Bilingue‘s research data, they found out currently in L.A. there are over 1 million minority ethnic groups that are undeserved with news information. They are very aggressively ready to jump into fill this gap with information. Also, they would take a multimedia platform approach to bringing their news and content online and deliver to mobile channels! Talent needed!

The South Los Angeles Report

This one is another USC Annenberg Metamorphosis and Intersections project. This very cool project works on increasing local citizen’s media advocacy to help them produce news for themselves! By conducting workshops in South Los Angeles communities to equip local citizens with basic journalist report skills, the USC South Los Angeles Team has inspired many local residents to produce interesting content for The South Los Angeles Report website. Definitely check out this great piece of video news, What Our Tax Dollars Pay For, produced by South LA resident Delores Kelly after she attended one workshop. It is a fairly raw piece, but you can not miss the authenticity and advocacy power conveyed by it!

The Current and Future of Gaming

Today a friend of mine who studies gaming design at USC showed me two very cool game trailers, the first one is the next generation of a famous Japanese game franchise called Final Fantasy (yes, of course it is a Japanese game), which he describes as delivering the best graphics design the current video game industry can achieve. The second one is a preview for Xbox’s Project Natal, which will be launched later this year. As an amateur video game player who has only been into Super Mario all these years, I was very enticed to play these two games after watching the two short films about them. What will the future of gaming be? Just combine these two games in your head, and you would see a picture that in the near future everyone of us will be projected into a sophisticated video game world, controller free!

Final Fantasy XIII

Project Natal Xbox 360 Announcement

“I just met you, but I love you already!”

Do you still remember the cute dog in Disney-Pixar’s movie “Up”, which had an automated collar that could translate his thoughts into human languages? When he first met the little boy in the movie, he looked at him with a waving tail and happy tongue, saying: “I just met you, but I love you already!”

That was the cutest scene I remember from that movie, and now with the help of a new piece of technology designed by toy company Mattel, your doggie can “tweet” to you.

Here is an excerpt from “Mattel taps into social media craze with Puppy Tweets from the L.A. Times:

“Tapping into the social media craze, toy giant Mattel Inc. is preparing to release Puppy Tweets, a high-tech toy that will allow dogs to publicize their everyday activities on Twitter via a sound and motion sensor.

Attached to a dog’s collar, the plastic tag randomly generates one of 500 canned tweets when it detects barking or movement and automatically posts an update to Fido’s own Twitter page.

A round of woofing could lead to a tweet of “I bark because I miss you. There, I said it. Now hurry home.” A frenzied run through the backyard might garner “I finally caught that tail I’ve been chasing, and . . . OOUUUCHH!” “

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww, dog lovers, how cute would that be? Real-time conversations with your doggie, even when you are apart!

Another bit of light-hearted news I came across earlier today (well, considering the nature of the news, maybe light-hearted is not the right word, so please take a moment for a silent tribute and farewell if necessary…after you’ve brushed off the amusement you get from the news) was about people’s response to the imminent death of Internet Explorer 6.

In a report by Techcrunch, a funeral for IE6 will be held by Aten Design Group on March 4. Of all the news I heard recently about the leaving of IE6, this one conferred the most dignity to the departure of this internet veteran that has been with us for almost a decade. Techcrunch cited the following text from the site

“Internet Explorer Six, resident of the interwebs for over 8 years, died the morning of March 1, 2010 in Mountain View, California, as a result of a workplace injury sustained at the headquarters of Google, Inc Internet Explorer Six, known to friends and family as “IE6,” is survived by son Internet Explorer Seven, and grand-daughter Internet Explorer Eight.”

IE6, please rest in peace.

News from China: Youku: A Leading Web Entrepreneurs in China

Last week, I briefly introduced the fast-growing Chinese Social Network Site’s eye-popping growth story. This week, I’d like to highlight another Social Media star in China:

Launched in December 2006, has grown to become the most successful video sharing site in the country. As the company has reported, “ delivers more than 150 million daily video views as of June 2008 and total user time spent exceeded 30 billion minutes per month.” Traffic ranking company Alexa has ranked as number 10 in China and number 52 in global traffic. According to the Alexa traffic stat graph below, in the past 30 days, Youku has also run far ahead of its main Chinese video sharing competitors, and, in terms of daily traffic.

Calling all these video sharing sites “Youtube clones” is not exactly correct. Even though they brand themselves as site for user-generated content (the videos and comments are submitted by the users), there is also a lot of professionally-produced content there, like hot TV shows and movies, due to holes in enforcing intellectual property policy in China. At this very moment, looking at the Youku front page, about 90% of the featured videos on the front page are professionally produced content. So it is really more like a Chinese Youtube/Hulu hybrid. You can basically find anything on it, even some pirated versions of newly-released movies. Besides user-submitted professional media content, as Youku gains more traction with its users, it has also attracted many professional media groups, like TV stations, to set up pages and upload full length versions of their programs sites for users to watch.

An editorial focus on professional content is probably a major reason Youku has separated itself from its competitors in China. Unlike its competitor Tudou, which put emphasis on user-generated content and feature them on the front page, Youku acquires traditional broadcast news channel contributions, and usually selects and features current event news clips from authoritative news stations like CCTV on its front page. For many people who have gradually abandoned TV in their lives, Youku has jumped in to fill that spot perfectly. it does not only provides professional entertainment, but also editorially-selected daily news content.

According to Youku, until July 2008, it has received 80 million dollars in funding from international venture capitalists including Bain Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures, Farallon Capital, Maverick Capital and Chinese Venture Capitalist Chengwei Venture.

Youku has also launched a program called Daily Buzz to report its hottest videos, along with an introduction of background stories in English. It could be a great source for foreigners to access the hottest online buzz in China. Kudos to Youku for providing a window for the outside world into all the social dimensions of China. Below is a teaser I put here for you to visit the buzz site at Is your interest piqued for starting your own web venture in China now? Then check out this detailed guide from Read Write Start: Never Mind the Valley: Here’s Beijing

“Uploaded on: February 5, 2010 Total Views: 688,693 Thumbs Up: 5.6% Comments: 5,283

Feng Jie (凤姐) is really short at just 1.46 meters, with buck teeth. Yet she considers herself very pretty and smart. What piqued the, um, interest of millions of Chinese gentlemen are Feng Jie’s requirements for a future husband: must be a graduate from either Peking University or Tsinghua University (the two most prestigious in China), and — she’s very specific on this — needs to have majored in business or management. Her other requirements? International vision, height between 1.76 to 1.83, no child, a residence permit for an eastern coastal city, and age 25 to 28. A classic quote from Feng Jie: “I started reading when I was 9 years old; my knowledge reached its peak at 20.” You can’t fault a girl for reaching high, right?”

Jeremiah Owyang: Web Strategy: How To Evolve Your Irrelevant Corporate Website

Web Strategist Jeremiah Owyang published the article Web Strategy: How To Evolve Your Irrelevant Corporate Website in his blog Web Strategy three years ago with great foresight. Today as the online community has proven to be the epicenter for online conversations and interactions, more and more web technologies and companies that provide these services, like KickApps, have emerged to help companies revolutionize their website to be more community-friendly and “relevant” to their customers.

POM Wonderful is one of the pioneers in transforming their company website from a static information center to a dynamic “pomegranate-lover” community. Another great examples is Dell’s IdeaStorm project: customer ideas to improve products prompted endless inspiration to Dell’s product development teams, which would in turn help them better meet the needs of their customers. After all, who else could be a better person to turn to for advice on better serving your customers than the consumers themselves. They congregate and speak up ardently about your products in these online communities. No matter if these opinions are positive or negative ones, they are all valuable ones for the company to listen to. This kind of listening was once done by small and expensive focus groups, but social tools and online communities have largely reduced the transaction costs and afforded companies many more channels to listen to invaluable opinions from much larger and passionate groups in a real-time setting.

Also, letting these conversations happen at “home” is better than letting it happen elsewhere, because by providing a place for consumers to voice their opinions on your own website, not only does that generate valuable customers insight for you, but also shows your real respect and care for your consumers.These actions invite them to truly be owner for your brand and build the brand with you.

Since social network sites started to take off in China 3 years ago, they have undergone exponential growth and their traction among Chinese netizens has subsequently made these sites the new battlegrounds for Chinese companies to connect with customers. Now, these companies are just one step away from bringing these users and conversations back to their company websites by incorporating social media functions on these sites. I have translated Jeremiah Owyang’s prescient article into Chinese, hopefully helping it reach more people that would find it of great value. Thank you Jeremiah Owyang.


Jeremiah Owyang









很多网络市场营销者都有这种印象,那就是网络营销之战只在谷歌(Google)搜索引擎以及 企业的网站里上演。但是在现实生活中,网络市场营销已经散布到许多别的对话产生的领 域:社交网站,评分网站,网络聊天室,甚至博客中。就这个话题,我撰写了一篇独立的博 文进行探讨:为什么网络市场营销不只发生在两个网络领域中。



















From Google Wave to Google Buzz… or Vice-Versa?

Google Buzz has been around for about two weeks now, and some of my tech savvy friends on Buzz have already mastered it like they did for Twitter, using it as a broadcast tool to create word-of-mouth effect for their brands or events. Many websites like Mashable have also become early adopters of Buzz, actively promoting it alongside the ubiquitous “follow us” Twitter and Facebook buttons. For now, I am still resisting the urge to Buzz my contacts, in contrast to my continued usage of Twitter as a public announcement tool, because I do not feel like being force fed by Buzz messages (Susan discussed this problem in length here), thus I am also very hesitant to possibly force feed my friends.

Another serious issue with Buzz is its privacy problem. Because the default opt-in settings disclose people’s close contacts to the rest of the world, this has irritated many people as an intrusion to their privacy. But through my conversation with a friend who has been using Google Wave, he brought up an interesting point that the opt-in existing contacts function in Buzz might be a lesson Google learned from their experiment with Wave. He thinks that the reason Wave has so far failed (relatively) as a social networking/messaging platform is because the nature of its “closed Beta” means each user does not immediately have enough existing contacts to connect with and keep the momentum for the Wave experience going. This might be a universal problem for any closed beta platform, but it is extremely disruptive for a social network platform. He thinks Google probably wanted to avoid the same problem with Buzz, so by default it opted in a user’s existing circle of friends so people could immediately connect and communicate.

Considering the pressure Google is facing from other Social Network Site, this opt-in is an understandable business move to quickly connect users. But in relation to Google’s recent threats to leave China over protecting its users’ privacy and freedom of speech, this action may seem a bit self-contradictory. Georgetown University Research Fellow Evgeny Morozov commented in his blog Net Effect:

“I am yet to hear a Google executive mention privacy as one of the values that are constitutive of the freedom of expression. Whenever they talk about the latter, they always make it very clear that privacy inhabits a completely different universe. I think they operate on a very flawed logic, which makes all their other efforts on this front look very insincere. Moreover, I think it is likely to cause Google much more damage in the long run: what’s the point of protecting the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists if you tell the rest of the world who those people are talking to?”

Google is on its way to building an empire of free flowing information, but the huge amount of data and immense trust it receives from people also places a great burden of responsibility on its shoulder. This responsibility will only grow heavier in the future when its new products will face similar choices, especially between its business gain and people’s personal privacy.