Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Yelp: A Protection Racket Masquerading as a Review Site

 No Yelp

Many business owners believe Yelp is a protection racket masquerading as a review site. They say Yelp has full control over which reviews are counted and that Yelp manipulates the ratings based on whether or not a business buys advertising from them. They say Yelp salespeople are relentless and very aggressive. Business owners who pay for advertising are promised some control over their reviews.

Yelp has a market capitalization of $3.2 billion. More than 42 million reviews have been posted to Yelp and the site averages 108 million visitors per month.

Yelp Reviews

Yelp's business model pits the consumer against the business.

Yelp's product is advertising and their customers are business owners, not consumers. Yelp's content, other than advertising is provided free of charge by their users, but any time there is a conflict between a consumer and an advertiser, Yelp sides with the advertiser. Yelp salespeople are coached to offer advertisers assistance in getting negative reviews removed.

Most people who rely on Yelp reviews have no idea how the reviews are manipulated by Yelp. Yelp claims, "Currently, about 75% of all reviews are recommended." Yelp's criteria for sorting reviews is a trade secret and they've constructed it in a way that that makes it very difficult to reverse-engineer. 

Among the frequently asked questions on Yelp’s website, is this: “Will Yelp remove or reorder bad reviews if a business pays for sponsorship?”And the answer: “No. You can’t pay us to remove or reorder your bad reviews — it’s just that simple.”

That's what Yelp says. However the evidence indicates otherwise.
  Many businesses owners who don't advertise on Yelp believe Yelp filters reviews when there are too many positive ones. Many small-business owners say Yelp routinely uses bad reviews and competitors’ ads as leverage to get merchants to cough up some cash.

Most people who use Yelp don't know about the filtered reviews. Reviews that Yelp doesn't recommend can still be seen via a link, but that link is buried at the bottom of the page. Yelp can and does show different reviews to different people. They can show you a review you wrote as if it mattered, while at the same time for everyone else, your review is sitting in the "Not Recommended" wasteland.

Chain restaurants have very few reviews filtered out, while restaurants that are small operations have very few reviews, or bad reviews, and are much more likely to have many reviews filtered out.

High Pressure Sales Tactics

Advertising costs on Yelp began between $300, $500 a month, but you have to commit to 6 months to a year

Yelp salespeople will tell you:

1. "You are getting X amount of clicks on our Yelp page daily and you should be, paying Yelp for every single one of those clicks."

2. "Hey, you have a decent reputation on Yelp. You should think about advertising, so more people can see you."

They continually harass you and strong-arm you to get you to pay for their service. Many of the ad impressions they sell are next to worthless because of their placement on the page or because they are displayed to the wrong audience.

Pay to play on Yelp

You tell them no enough times and suddenly, you'll see three or four bad reviews appear and some of the good ones disappear. Yelp will sell ad space on your page to your competitors and then when you ask about it they will offer to sell that ad space to you.

Yelp doesn't trust positive reviews but they are happy to use dubious negative reviews to strong-arm a business into buying advertising.

Compliance Verification

Yelp is accused of "naming and shaming" those businesses who Yelp suspects have suspicious reviews. They will penalize you if they suspect you have been soliciting reviews. Once accused by Yelp of soliciting reviews the business must submit a Compliance Verification form and wait 30 to 45 days before Yelp may confirm the business is no longer soliciting reviews and remove the search results penalty.

Meanwhile, there are lots of people (including Elite Members) selling Yelp reviews on the internet via Craig's List and other web sites. A Google search for "Buy Yelp reviews" turns up lots of links and quite a few advising against it because if it is detected, you will be punished. 

ABC recently reported that Yelp is now playing private detective to find businesses paying for reviews and outing them publicly. They create an unfair environment then call out people for trying to avoid the damage it creates.

FTC Investigation

Yelp has been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, but as of yet no charges have been filed. 2,000 complaints were filed by businesses that their rankings were diminished because they refused to advertise with Yelp.

Yelp Elite

Elite member get special benefits and have a lot of power -- if you get a five-star review from a Yelp Elite,  it's there forever.

Yelp Elites are particularly demanding. They can often be vindictive, or use the threat of a bad review as leverage to get discounts or refunds. Merchants can often feel blackmailed by customers while also paying protection to Yelp.

A group of disgruntled Yelp reviewers have filed a class-action lawsuit demanding that they be compensated for posting their opinions on the site.

According to the suit, the angry Yelpers are arguing that they are technically unpaid employees who deserve money for their “work” — which includes writing, researching, editing and lodging reviews — since they’re crucial to Yelp’s business model.

Businesses Have no Choice

Whether you want to be on Yelp or whether you don't want to be on Yelp, whether people know you're on Yelp or not, you're gonna be on there. You can't delete your account, but you can be prevented from commenting on reviews about your business. 

Yelp Reviewers Who Are Terminated Have no Recourse 

From Yelp's Terms of Service:
"We may close your account, suspend your ability to use certain portions of the Service, and/or ban you altogether from the Service for any or no reason, and without notice or liability of any kind."

It's time to impose some costs on Yelp for their unfair business practices

For starters, Yelp should be banned from the search results on Google (and other search engines) until they change their ways. Of course that's not likely to happen, but if Google receives enough complaints about Yelp's conduct, they might reduce the credibility and ranking they currently assign to Yelp pages about individual businesses.  

For more information

See Billion Dollar Bully -- This documentary explores accusations that online marketing giant Yelp! is running a mob-like extortion racket against business owners who refuse, or can't afford to pay-to-play.

Billion Dollar Bully

Sunday, January 5, 2020

US Media Reaction to the Soleimani Killing -- The Sky is Falling!

Our enemies in Iran are watching. We should all question the justifications for the drone strike on terrorist leaders in Baghdad. We deserve some answers. But all the hand wringing in the media about Trump starting World War 3 and us being on the brink of war is only giving aid and comfort to our enemies. They want us to be afraid, divided and fearing what they might do next.

Keep Calm and Carry On

And when the retaliation from Iran finally happens, the media will go all "Chicken Little" again. Yes, it may cost some American lives and that's unfortunate, but we run that risk every time we deploy troops. It's a dangerous world out there. We can hide under our beds or "Keep Calm and Carry On" while we wa
it for some answers.

wringing hands

Knowing Trump as we do, it's likely that this will turn out to be a monumental blunder that will be justified by a pack of lies. But it's done now and we have to live with the consequences. We need a healthy debate on the facts, but exaggerating the risks we face as a result of this action will only embolden our enemies.

As reported in the New York Times:
"Trump initially elected to strike against militia groups. On Sunday, the US military struck three locations in Iraq and two in Syria that were controlled by an Iranian-backed militia, The Times also reported. But, after protesters supporting an Iranian-backed militia stormed Iraq's US Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday..."

Trump decided another "proportional response" would be just as ineffective, so he went for something shocking.

We know Trump is impulsive and too lazy to do his homework before making any decision. But this could restrain Iran, at least until Trump leaves office, or it can backfire spectacularly. We'll have to wait and see.

A short history lesson on US -- Iran relations

Iran and the US have been at war for some 40 years now, since the Shah was deposed in 1979. But the mutual hostility goes all the way back to 1953, when the US staged a coup to overthrow Iran's popular and democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh because he had nationalized Iran's oil industry, taking control of it away from Great Britain. 

Mossadegh was replaced by a monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. The Shah's despotic rule eventually led to a revolution in 1979, that placed a religious leader, an ayatollah, on the throne. Iranians were seething with anger over US meddling, and that lead to the taking of the US embassy in Tehran by "students" who also took American diplomats and Marines hostage and held them for 444 days.

Iranians seizing US embassy in 1979
Iranians seizing US embassy in 1979

The hostage crisis, and the fecklessness shown by president Jimmy Carter did great damage to America's influence in the region and it spelled the end of Carter's chances for re-election.   

The American hostages were released when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, but the peace didn't last long. In 1983, Iran blew up a Marine barracks at the US Embassy in Beirut, killing dozens. Also in 1983, an Iraqi man called Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis car-bombed the US Embassy in Kuwait.

Over the years since, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis conducted many attacks on US soldiers and interests in the region. And, by the way, al-Muhandis was one of the people killed in the motorcade with Soleimani. He was Soleimani's most powerful militia leader in Iraq.

Ever since the 1980s, Iran has been supplying funding, weapons, training and supervision of militias who have been attacking and killing US soldiers and our allies in the region. Meanwhile, the US has also been using proxies to attack Iranian militias outside of Iran and Iranian interests inside Iran.

In 1988, the US Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down Iranian Airbus A300B2, which was on a scheduled commercial flight in Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. The attack killed 290 civilians and President George H W Bush responded by saying that he would "never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don't care what the facts are."  

In 2007, US forces raided the Iranian Consulate General located in Erbil, Iraq and arrested five staff members.  American forces released two Iranian diplomats after holding them for 305 days, as well as seven other Iranian citizens that were seized at various times in different parts of Iraq.

The US has been trying, via economic sanctions, to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but during the Shah's reign, the US helped Iran create its nuclear program. Starting in 1957, the US provided Iran with its first nuclear reactor and nuclear fuel, and after 1967 by supplying Iran with weapons grade enriched uranium.

In 2015, during the Obama administration a treaty was signed with Iran that halted their nuclear development in exchange for the release of billions of dollars that were seized in the US and a reduction in economic sanctions. Most Republicans were convinced the treaty was a mistake and vowed to cancel it as soon as they returned to power. In May 2018, Donald Trump cancelled the treaty, announcing he that would reimpose economic sanctions. 

The re-imposition of sanctions has crippled Iran's economy and caused domestic unrest in Iran, which has led Iran to increase their attacks on US interests throughout the Middle East via their proxy militias.

The US has been planning to leave Iraq for some time now and has been drawing down troops. Iran's proxies attacked the US embassy in Baghdad in December 2019, in order to embarrass and humiliate the US, while also strengthening their position in Iraq. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran, taunted the US, saying, "You can do nothing about it."

Trump wasn't about to let that go unanswered, and now here we are.

Iran proxies attack US embassy in Iraq
Iran proxies attack US embassy in Iraq
The US kills Soleimani
The US kills Soleimani
Iranians (and their proxies) are pissed!
Iranians (and their proxies) are pissed!
So there's a long and bloody history here. Regardless of whatever justifications are offered for the attack on Soleimani and al-Muhandis, we are stuck with the consequences now. 

On January 5, 2020, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of expelling US forces. The vote was not binding on Iraqi leadership, and President Trump responded by threatening "crippling sanctions" on Iraq. On Jan 6, in a letter to the Iraqi military, the U.S. military in Baghdad said that it would be repositioning its troops in preparation for a possible withdrawal.The same day, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said that the U.S. has not made any decision to leave Iraq.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Funny Vintage Ads (32)

Advertising has always been an interesting way to look at history. But when you see these vintage advertisements, the past seems a lot stranger than you thought.
Thorazine to control agitation
Oh, he's just a little agitated...

The Omnibot 2000, introduced by Japanese toy company TOMY in 1985, with a steep price tag of $600, was a sorry excuse for a personal robot. Only one of its arms could be controlled and it came with a cassette player.
Creole Palace San Diego
For over 30 years beginning in 1924, the Creole Palace was a popular, high energy cabaret that catered primarily to the African American population of San Diego. The club, also known as the “Cotton Club of the West,” attracted prominent entertainers of the day such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie.
Oneida Community Silver
Oneida Community Silver was begun by a Christian religious utopian commune established in Oneida, New York, in 1848.
Gay-LAa Singing Kettles
Supposedly this teapot inspired the Romi Klinger hit track, “Gay in LA”
Almonds in a Haystack
Almonds on top of Miracle Whip on top of chopped ham. Wait, those are almonds? They look like French fries!
"Just slip on and wear while you work or play..."
...until you pass out from heat stroke.

Spam 'N' Cheese Ribbon Loaf
Spam ‘N’ Cheese Ribbon Loaf
Because if there’s anything better than Spam, it’s Spam in a loaf.

The Kuba Komet Entertainment System
The Komet houses a TV, radio, record player and a tape recorder. The KUBA Corporation manufactured the Kuba Komet Entertainment System from 1957 to 1962 in Wolfenbuttel, West Germany. The Komet was over 7 feet wide and weighed in at a hefty 289 pounds.
Electric Powered Marx-Mobile
The "Electric Powered Marx-Mobile" was produced by Louis Marx Company, Glendale, WV. It cost $21.95 without the battery, weighed over 30 pounds with the battery and was sold through Sears.
The first McDonald's restaurant was started in 1948 by Maurice and Richard McDonald in San Bernardino, California. in 1955, Ray Kroc convinced the brothers to franchise and in 1961, Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers.

Post Grape-Nuts -- Like Mother Like Daughterr
Teaching your child that being thin is everything is pretty much Parenting 101, right ladies? Fat shaming has a very long history in America advertising.
Self-Defense American Style
Forget all that flamboyant Asian martial arts hooey. This ad says, "No tricks. No gimmicks. Develop your power and muscles and your inner strength. FAST and EASY. The AMERICAN WAY!

Geshtunkana Ray Gun
Chickenman was an American radio series created by Dick Orkin that spoofed comic book heroes and was inspired by the mid-1960s Batman TV series.
Du Pont - Farming with Dynamite
"In the early 20th century, Du Pont released a series of pamphlets touting what it claimed to be the greatest agricultural innovation since the plow: dynamite."

Cooties - Delousing
The word cooties first appeared during World War I as soldiers' slang for the painful body lice that infested the trenches. They were also known as "arithmetic bugs" because "they added to our troubles, subtracted from our pleasures, divided our attention, and multiplied like hell."
 Pristeen: Unfortunately, the trickiest deodorant problem a girl has isn't under her pretty little arms
Actually the trickiest deodorant problem is that all these products almost guarantee the exact outcome they are claiming to avoid, by disrupting the delicate pH balance and allowing the harmful bacteria to outnumber the good. Another in a long line of advertisements that were designed to make women self-conscious about their bodies.
WW2: Killing should always be done with spotless weapons.
Dr. Campbell's Safe Arsenic Complexion Wafers
Until the 1920s, the Western ideal was for a porcelain-like smooth, pale skin tone. For those determined to clear their skin of blemishes or ruddiness, arsenic was taken in small doses. To make it seem safe to take, the poison was sold under various ‘doctoral’ brands including Dr. Campbell, Dr. MacKenzie, Dr. Simms, Dr. Rose and Dr. Botot.

Hiller Atom Ray Gun
American inventor Stanley Hiller, Jr designed this all-metal squirt gun in the late 1940s.
Atomic Tunnel

The "Beautiful Atomic Tunnel" was a tourist trap in Daytona Beach, Florida that featured a long, white concrete building in the shape of a meandering tube, studded with 824 "port holes" that was designed primarily as a showcase for exotic orchids. It also featured tropical birds, a monkey, and "Happy, the walking fish," a typical Southeast Asian "walking" catfish that could be prodded into flipping its way across a short dry connection from one tank to another.
Tarco Space Pilot Helmet
Released in 1952 by Tarco Toys, the Space Pilot Helmet was called the “Planetary” Toy for a “Space-Flight” Boy.
When it was placed on your head, you could “sound like whizzing through space when you ride your bike, roller skate, run or coast in your wagon.”


Sears Silvertone Radio
The Silvertone brand was introduced by Sears in 1915 with a hand-cranked phonograph. Beginning in the 1920s, the brand was expanded to include Silvertone radios.

The Pure and Germless Kiss
"For a pure and hygienic kiss, use this small racket --  after washing it in an antiseptic." Oh, how romantic!  

The Carbolic Smoke Ball
The failure of The Carbolic Smoke Ball to perform as advertised led to a court case in 1892 that became the basis of later consumer protection laws.

 Space Disintegrator Gun and Helmet
 This Space Disintegrator Gun and Helmet was all the rage among boys in 1950s Australia.

Hardee's -- Women don't leave the kitchen
Women are meant to be in the kitchen, while men who are bachelors obviously cannot cook for themselves.
Asbestos - the Magic Mineral
Asbestos is such a "magic mineral" that it is still causing a rare cancer called mesothelioma many decades after it was no longer commonly used in building materials.  It is now known that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Survivor Identification Capsule
When war is imminent, don't forget to insert your identity suppository for later ID of your charred remains.
Sears Bath Shag Carpet
What were they thinking? Any carpet in the bathroom is a bad idea because it's a perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew, but shag carpet is even worse.  

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Amazon Storefronts Help Small Business

Amazon Storefronts Ad
"Amazon helps small-town businesses"
Amazon is responsible for the closure of thousands of storefronts in America and now offers their platform to business owners so that Amazon can get a piece of every online sale they make.

Amazon claims their Amazon Storefronts, "a curated destination to shop exclusively from American small and medium-sized businesses" helps small businesses. Perhaps, but it will never offset Amazon's total devastation of Main Street America and suburban shopping malls, thanks to the overwhelming power of Amazon's marketing machine and predatory business practices. Then there are the many local jobs that have been lost, along with the local tax revenue from those jobs. Sure, Amazon creates some jobs in regional distribution warehouses; jobs that exploit workers and take such a physical and mental toll that few people can handle it for long.

According to syndicated columnist Jim Hightower:
"Bezos followed the business path mapped by Rockefeller and other 19th Century robber barons: (1) ruthlessly exploit a vast and vulnerable low-wage workforce; (2) extract billions of dollars in special government subsidies; and (3) wield every anti-competitive tool you can find or invent to get what you want from other businesses." 

Amazon's revenue has been growing at more than 20% a year, and yet Amazon paid no federal income tax for 2018. Through various tax breaks and credits, the company received a tax rebate of $129 million.

But this is not just Amazon's doing -- everyone who shops online is also at least partially responsible for the decline in brick and mortar retail. The choices we make on where to spend our money have consequences. Some of those consequences have been particularly unpleasant for Red States and Rust Belt States. 
Perhaps that explains, in part at least, how we ended up with Donald Trump in 2016. And Trump may well be re-elected in 2020, even though Trump hasn't done much for those folks who have suffered the most. Arguably, he has made it worse for them, but they think they have nowhere else to go.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Review: Dog and Rooster Web Design - Jack Jung

Don't play victim to a situation you created

Can you be sued over a Yelp or Google review? Yes

Most businesses cannot afford to ignore their reviews, but some are overzealous in policing them. And worse, some business owners are trying to hijack our judicial system to silence, intimidate and harass critics of theirs. 

Many business owners feel like the game is rigged against them by Yelp. They can't control Yelp, so they seek to remove all the negative reviews posted on Yelp about their business, either through appeals to Yelp about "fake" reviews or through whining, cajoling, or threatening reviewers.

The subject of this blog post is currently suing someone for defamation over negative reviews. He may ultimately prevail, or not and the suit has already partially survived a SLAPP motion. 

Frankly it looks like it could ultimately go either way, but it does appear as if it all began with an attempt by a former client to post a negative review that wouldn't be quickly removed. Then it got worse.

Dog and Rooster, Inc.
dogandrooster <dot> com
5755 Oberlin Drive Suite 106, San Diego, CA 92121

TL;DR -- Summary

I'm NOT casting aspersions on Mr Jack Jung's business, any work he has done, or him personally. I am expressing an opinion -- that Mr Jung has shown bad judgment:

1. For disabling the right-click menu on his web site
2. For his aggressive moderation of review comments, which has caused some blowback and will likely continue to do so if he persists.

Dog and Rooster defamation lawsuit against a former client

Jack Jung of Dog and Rooster Web Design is currently suing one of his former clients over a bad review. Here are the business owner's own words in response to a review on Google: 

"Writing reviews of your experience with business is a constitutional right but writing fake reviews to sabotage businesses is illegal. Our legal team is communicating with Google to find the identification of this fake reviewer. It is unfortunate that we have to spend our valuable time and energy on such unethical activities."

Honest review posted by one of Dog and Rooster Web Design clients 

Jack Jung of Dog and Rooster Studio - Web Design claims he is responding to a "fake" review here, but in fact it was posted by a former client who is obviously very unhappy with the work that was done; the same client that Dog and Rooster Web Design is currently suing for defamation
(Case 37-2019-00031852-CU-DF-CTL). 

I made a promise to Mr Jung and delivered on it: 

Now that the point has been made (about overcoming Jack Jung's attempts at censorship), I have removed the SEO (search engine optimization) that caused this post to appear at the top of the search results. I have also made substantial edits to this post; deleting the account of my personal experience with Mr Jung and his web site, as well as some embarrassing quotes from Mr Jung that were taken from my correspondence with him. 

However this post about Mr Jung's lawsuit, and the review of Dog and Rooster Studio - Web Design that I posted to Google will remain. If Mr Jung doesn't like it, he should remember this:

Don't play victim to a situation you created
That's right, Jack.
Don't play victim to the circumstances YOU created.