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Yelp Will Let Businesses Respond to Web Reviews

From The New York Times by Claire Cain Miller: Starting next week, Yelp will let small-business owners publicly respond to reviews. This is a big change for the site, which has until now steadfastly refused to give businesses significant access to its pages.

“Business owners for years now have been asking for more and more voice on the site,” said Geoff Donaker, Yelp’s chief operating officer. “As long as it’s done in a respectable way, it’s good for the consumer and good for the business owner.”

As Yelp has become more important in major American cities, its relationship with small businesses has become more contentious. Particularly in San Francisco, where the company started in 2004, Yelp has angered some small businesses because it has not allowed them to respond to reviews, as TripAdvisor and other review sites do.

Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, has said that to protect the voice of the consumer, the voices of businesses, many of which advertise on the site, had to be muted.

As the site matures, though, it has been taking steps to appease small-business owners. A year ago, Yelp started allowing business owners to update their businesses’ profile pages and privately contact reviewers.

The latest step of adding public responses shows that the start-up company is maturing, said Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, an Internet research firm.

“They’ve received a lot of criticism about their perceived bias against businesses,” he said. “This is a concession to the needs and interests of small businesses who sometimes feel powerless.”

Yelp requests that business owners use the public comments to correct inaccuracies, provide their side of a story or explain how they have fixed a problem. They are not supposed to use comments to advertise or make personal attacks. Yelp will not screen comments before they are published, but users will be able to flag inappropriate comments for review by Yelp’s customer service team.

Peter Picataggio, the owner of Tart, a Los Angeles restaurant, and an advertiser on Yelp, has been frustrated by false reviews in the past.

He said that although he and his staff responded privately to almost every Yelp review, he welcomed the chance to do so publicly. “I think that’s great that I get to tell my side of the story,” he said.

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