Is Yelp Deleting Bad Reviews For Money? I Have No Idea

I’ve had this story about Yelp allegedly removing bad reviews for advertisers on my mind a lot lately and after Twittering about it today I got to talk to Yelp HQ on the phone. They promise they do no such thing. Do I believe them? I have no idea; I’m going to put “can I trust Yelp?” in the same category as other questions like “is there a God?” and “can Democrats be trusted to make the world a better place?” Questions that cannot be answered, I think.

Yelp’s argument is that advertisers get to put an ad, a positive review of their choice, on the top of their pages – and that confuses people. They are also very pro-active about deleting reviews they suspect may be fake.

I know people get confused about online advertising. How else would Google be making so many billions of dollars? In clinical tests people are unable to identify paid vs. natural search results. When asked “how could it be made clearer?” they say things like “put them on the side of the page, put the word ‘sponsored’ near them or put them in a colored box.” All things that Google does in fact do. People just don’t notice.

It’s an unprovable, un-disproval allegation ultimately. Would it be crazy for Yelp to do something that would so damage their credibility? It would if it could be proven. It might not if it couldn’t be proven.

For now I’ll just appreciate the positive and negative reviews I see on Yelp and I’ll check the review history of people I see posting there. And sometimes I’ll just make up my own mind after patronizing businesses.

I’d love to see Consumer Reports do a comparative review of Yelp, CitySearch and others. I told Yelp that, too.

It’s My Birthday – Will You Make Me a Gift?

Well folks, I turn 33 years old on Monday but I’m going to have to work so I’m celebrating it today. It’s been a very big year for me: I got married and bought a house! There’s a picture of my new backyard there below. I love our new house! And I love my wife, very much. A lot of other things happened but those are the biggest. It’s been a great year for work as well, I’m learning a lot and having a lot of fun at ReadWriteWeb.

What more could a lucky guy like me want for my birthday? (Less hair loss, dogs that walk themselves, college loans paid off, I could go on!) I’ll tell you what I really need – OPML files! Bundles of RSS feeds I can import into my feed reader. My old Google Reader account is way too filled up with gadget blogs and other things I don’t care about anymore and I haven’t subscribed to anything that isn’t a tech company’s official blog in months. It’s not right. So I’m starting with a fresh new start, using the Mac desktop reader Vienna.

So far the only thing I’ve put into the reader is the OPML file of hundreds of women tech bloggers put together by Anne Zelenka almost three years ago! (Check out that post if you want to see how cutely naive my writing about OPML was just 3 years ago!) That’s my wife with me on the right, not Anne Zelenka.

That’s cool, but I’d love it if for my birthday you, my friends, would send me OPML files of blogs on certain topics. Something cool. I don’t need a file of the top blogs writing about the Semantic Web, I already have that. I don’t need a file of the best blogs on youth marketing, I already have that and am not sure how I feel about it.

This shouldn’t be too hard to do, if you’re unfamiliar. Just put a collection of feeds into a folder in any RSS reader and then export. Open it up in a text editor and cut out all the parts outside of that folder. Then send it to me! Or you could drop RSS feeds in this tool, publish, copy and paste into a text editor and send it to me via

It would be so awesome if, for my birthday, a few people sent me really awesome OPML files. It’s a curated collection of dynamic sources – a gift that really keeps on giving!

Update: It’s working! People are sending me awesome collections of blogs on things like Activity Streams data standards, web design, crafts and more. Thank you so much!!

Do this for me and I’ll build you a really awesome TweepML group for your birthday when the time comes.

What do you think? Think anyone will actually do it and send me one?? We’ll see! Even if no one does, I still got married and bought a house this year – so no big deal!

This Real-Time Web Stuff is Amazing

I’m doing loads of research in preparation for next week’s ReadWrite Real-Time Web Summit and a research report on the same topic. I’ve now talked to 43 companies who are building and/or using real-time technology and have seen some amazing use cases. I wrote about ten use cases last week but as I’m going through my notes now there are three more I wanted to share that illustrate the importance of all this.

  • Real-time data collection is letting scientists find colleagues, related and recommended research in a matter of hours, instead of months or years, using software from a UK company called Mendeley. Mendeley is like iTunes or for scientific research, the company even has the founder of on its team. There will be someone from Mendeley at the Summit, too.
  • Warner Brothers uses an Adobe AIR app they built to track traffic on artists’ websites, media mentions and more, in real time. Catching data spikes in real time allows them to turn on a dime with marketing and product strategies.
  • The RedCross national headquarters (and I’m sure a lot of local offices) use real-time systems to monitor breaking news about disasters around the world and co-ordinate volunteers. Work that used to take weeks is now done in minutes or hours – that means saved lives. Many people at RedCross HQ are subscribers to Breaking News Online, a fascinating service founded by a teenager in the Netherlands and now run by a small, distributed team of scrappy reporters around the world.

All of those organizations are working hard at building even faster systems. Real time doesn’t just let them do things they were already doing faster – it makes entirely new kinds of work possible. That’s what Bret Slatkin, co-creator of real-time protocoal PubSubHubbub says: engineers should build their real-time systems to scale into entirely new use-cases that can’t even be foreseen yet.

This is really exciting, important stuff. I hope you’ll join us at the Real-Time Web Summit to discuss it. If you can’t make it, selected sessions will be live-streamed as well.

Thank Goodness For Standards

I’m working on a big research report for ReadWriteWeb and decided the other day to start my writing in an outline format, which is unusual for me. I bought a $3 iPhone app that lets me create outlines, so I can work on it when I’m in my backyard or wherever else. I bought it happily because I saw in the description that it supported file export in OPML format, or Outline Processor Markup Language. That way I can send it to myself and edit it using a desktop editor made by an entirely different company. See? Standards enabled me to do work in new ways and gave me reason to spend money on someone’s product.

OPML was originally developed by Dave Winer. As was the OPML Editor I’m using on my desktop to do my work. OPML is most commonly used to export bundles of RSS feeds, blogs or podcasts but it doesn’t have to be limited to “just” those kinds of information. RSS is of course something that Winer was also key in the creation of, as was podcasting (he created the enclosure tag that carries MP3 or other files in feeds) and RSS Aggregators (he wrote one ten years ago). Blogging too. That’s all pretty damn incredible. Now Dave’s working on real-time, microblogging and a new RSS reader called River2.

Why am I writing a blog post about Dave Winer’s work over the years? Just because I was appreciating it again when it was so easy for me to buy that iPhone app for outlining and work with it on my desktop as well. Dave’s a controversial guy, and that’s probably an understatement, but he’s my friend. When I realized that, once again, it was in large part the fruit of his work that I was benefiting from when exporting those outlines – it made me want to make a blog post about it. Thanks for all the work you’ve done over the years, Dave. It’s really made a big difference in my life and work.

Social Media Consulting Can Be Extremely Valuable

It’s all the rage these days to say that “social media consulting” is nothing but over-priced advice dispensed by know-nothings to insecure companies about obvious things like communicating authentically online. Sometimes these critiques are funny (or very funny) and some people are trying to defend their practices. There’s been so much of this going on in the last week alone that I decided to respond in a post here. Update: I retweeted a link to this post two months after writing it because of this smart post by B.L. Ochman making the rounds today.

There is no question in my mind that my consulting, at least, is extremely valuable and non-obvious. Check out the page of feedback I’ve received. Below is one example of a valuable project I’ve done for a client.

I worked with Sun Microsystems last year to build a blog search dashboard tracking the most recent and most-discussed blog posts concerning a list of their products, during the Java One conference. People loved it and only an outside person with my experience and skills would have built it. It was social media consulting that wasn’t obvious or just about “join the conversation.” Here’s an in-depth explanation of exactly how I did it.

Then I did an audit of the company’s huge network of blogs, their wikis, their podcast portal and developer forums. I researched their competitors’ work in those areas and interviewed specialists in each of those fields who looked through the Sun sites with me. I gave a rapid-fire presentation to an executive team that blew the minds of some very serious and capable people.

They brought me back five times to work on different projects there, sent me 20% of my income for last year and invited me to meet and interview my childhood hero Neil Young when he spoke at an event.

So is social media consulting just a joke? Not in my world, it’s not. My contact info is in the right-hand sidebar, if you’re interested in getting in touch.