Yelp's Lost Chance to Prevent a Brawl

Yelp couldn't have guessed one of its reviewers might end up in a vicious wrestling match with a store owner, right? Wrong: the owner had visited Yelp HQ the day before the fight, been ignored, then turned away.

Ocean Ave. Books proprietor Diane Goodman visited Yelp to try and get her private Yelp messages removed from a Yelp discussion forum. She had sent them to a reviewer named "Sean C.," calling him a "coward" and "pussy boy" over a review that called her shop a "TOTAL MESS." She quickly apologized for the messages, she has said, but was irked that they remained on Yelp's message boards (see Google's cache).

Last Friday, Oct. 30, after an unsuccessful phone call, Goodman obtained Yelp's SOMA address through the Better Business Bureau and went there to ask them to remove her messages. She found an office with no Yelp signage and with an apathetic staff:

After going over there and telling my sad story to a bunch of people sitting at a picnic table who were all talking about the parties and concerts they were about to attend that weekend, none of them offered to help me. I attempted to convey the seriousness of what was about to happen to me, but know[ing] I'm not a Yelp sponsor they only gave me blank looks and turned away.



I asked the security guard if I could go upstairs to talk to someone and she said No. She said I would have to leave now and I said OK peacefully and then she locked the security gate and I left.

Having gotten nowhere with Yelp, Goodman two days later tracked down Sean C. through some clues on his profile (being apparently quite good at finding "unlisted" addresses) and visited his house, sparking the violent confrontation. Sean C says Goodman tried to force his way in; Goodman has said she was initially invited in but that the reviewer freaked out and pushed her when she said she was visiting him about the Yelp review.

Goodman told us yesterday she visited the house to apologize — and perhaps to get Sean C. to remove her angry messages. "The real thing that upset me about the whole thing was that he made an irate message out of my emails and put them on Yelp," she said.

Yelp might have diffused the situation by offering Goodman more than blank stares and a cold shoulder during her visit. After all, the discussion thread Goodman wanted removed from Yelp's server was, in fact, eventually removed "as inappropriate." A five or ten minute conversation with a business owner (and potential advertiser) who had gone to the trouble of finding the company's address might have calmed Goodman down, and sped up a deletion that happened later anyway.

Look at the situation from Goodman's perspective: She's a bricks-and-mortar, face-to-face neighborhood merchant being pelted by faceless, nameless online entities (and one remote customer service rep on the phone), and no one will have an actual face to face conversation with her.

Goodman is also an aggressive business owner who has now been cited for battery, so Yelp has a ready-made excuse for not engaging with her. But our impression is that the company only likes getting face to face with the "local" market it purports to serve when it means collecting advertising money or guzzling free food and drink at one of its "Yelp Elite" bacchanals.

Speaking of which: We asked Yelp PR for comment on this incident two days ago and have yet to hear back.

(Pic: Yelp HQ, 2007, by evadedave on Flickr)