RWW withholds judgement on the new feature, stating simply that “Yelp will have to tread carefully with this as its user base, although fiercely loyal and protective of the service, is also usually very pro-consumer as well, and any move that looks like a concession or sellout to business interests might end up being harmful to its image down the road.“
They are being overly cautious. Allowing owners to reply to comments is a long overdue feature. Sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and even eBay are places for public conversations. In the spirit of the social web, their purpose is to level the playing field between providers and consumers, sellers and buyers, owners and visitors.
Level it, that is, not tilt it the other way. This is not 1917. We do not have to overthrow the tyrants of businesses and corporations, we simply want to have conversations on equal footing.
Both the websites mentioned above have recognised this. TripAdvisor lets hotel owners reply to each review posted about their establishment and eBay allows sellers to reply (once) to feedback left by buyers. In both cases these talkback options are invaluable to me as a user in assessing whether I want to stay at a particular guesthouse or purchase from a specific eBay seller.
On our honeymoon we had a shortlist of three resorts in Vanuatu and all looked attractive. What tipped the scales in one’s favour was that the manager actively replied to most reviews, taking ownership of problems, promising rectification and genuinely seeming to care. The actual visit bore this impression out.
Similarly, a key criterion for whether I want to buy from a specific seller on eBay is not so much whether they have a 98.6% or a 99.2% feedback score but rather how they deal with criticism. Do I want to buy from someone who responds to “Not happy. Money sent but never received item” with “YOU LIAR!!! LEARN TO READ BE4 LEAVING FEEDBACK MORON!!!” or “My fault, item was already sold elsewhere. Offered refund but got not response.”?
Authentic conversations give us an insight into how a potential partner in a transaction deals with difficult situations and help us make more informed decisions. And those conversations necessarily have two sides.