May 2, 2008

I like Yelp more than I like myspace. Maybe even more than facebook. Why? Because Yelp has more of an impact on my daily life – in fact, it’s based around my daily life (and that of others in my metropolitan area.)

The idea is simple: you review the good, the bad, and the decidedly mediocre of what your town has to offer. Got an amazing haircut? Yelp about it. Need to know where to take your date for dinner? Check Yelp and see which restaurants have high reviews, look at their price range, read descriptions of the service and ambiance–in short Yelp will help you get to know your city and get to know the places you’ve been wanting to go but perhaps hadn’t yet found on your own.

But it’s not just about the knowledge! Like any good social networking site, Yelp brings its members together. You’re constantly encouraged to write more by compliments left by other users. Adding pictures to your profile will bring you closer to “elite” status (read on), and your reviews are reviewed (ooh, meta!) and awarded points by other members based on how cool, funny, or useful they are. If enough members think your review is relevant, you might be featured on the home page as the review of the day – and then the adulations will pour in. (Having recently been the ROTD myself, I must say – it’s actually quite thrilling!)

What’s even better is that Yelp constantly brings its communities together in real life, too. I’ve attended many an Unofficial Yelp Event – generally a happy hour gathering arranged by fellow yelpers, ordinary users with day jobs like me. Even better are the VIP events for “elite” members (my roommate is a member of the Elite squad) where entire restaurants are reserved and many freebies are given away–everything from henna tattoos to hoodies.

Knowing that Yelp exists, I don’t think I’ll ever be afraid to move somewhere new. I can just look up the metro and see what the locals are up to – I can always find a cool new place to visit, and even if I have a bad time, it’ll make for an interesting review.

You can find me at

ETA (10/9/2008): This post was written when I was new to Yelp and reflects my views as a novice yelper. I have since been awarded Elite status and have worked with Philadelphia’s Community Manager, Carrie Estok, to promote Yelp in that region. This post was meant to express the impressions I had of Yelp at that time, and is not meant to be used as a resource outlining how Yelp actually works.

I have received (and subsequently deleted) several comments from dissatisfied business owners; I urge these persons to discuss their concerns with their local Yelp Community Manager, rather than airing them in the comments section of this blog.


Spokeo and Privacy

April 6, 2008

I found out about Spokeo from a friend. He was “creeped out” because he recieved a notification email from the service telling him that someone had been searching for him. Naturally he logged and did a search on himself to see how the tool works.

He was shocked to know that his activity on social networking sites could be tracked and that all someone had to do to view that activity was search for the correct email address. He couldn’t envision any use for Spokeo other than “stalking”. This brings up a few concerns for me:

1) Privacy on the internet is complicated:

Many of my fellow hipsters express their identities on the internet–on their blogs, on myspace or facebook, even through AIM profiles and away messages. What few seem to realize is that there’s more of an “all-or-nothing” approach to privacy on the internet than there is in face-to-face communication. It’s perfectly fine to give someone a glimpse into your psyche – but realize that if you do it in your AIM profile everyone can see it. Not just the one person it’s intended for, not even everybody on your buddy list – ANYONE who knows your screen name sees it. Spokeo puts this into action with your facebook account: if your profile is searchable, anyone who searches for you will see your status. And if someone knows your email address, spokeo will find the networking sites you’ve registered for with that email address.

This does not mean your privacy has been compromised – this means you’ve been completely public. To quote Spokeo’s Privacy Page:

Everyone on the Internet, including Spokeo, has the access to your public content. If you don’t want to share them anymore, simply turn those content private. If you don’t remember what content you have posted on the Web, use Spokeo to find them.

If your friends can find you on a social network, they can find you on Spokeo. If your friends cannot see you on a social network, they cannot see you on Spokeo.

Facebook and most blogging agents have options for users to limit what people can see. For example, you can set your facebook profile to be “unfindable” – that is, it won’t come up if someone who’s not already your friend searches you. This “friends-only” approach is a step in the right direction, but there are some times when you want certain friends to know more than others. When it comes to social networking, this is a tricky case. Facebook has its “limited profile” feature, where you can list certain people who only get to see the parts of your profile you want them to see. For example, I limit access to my photos and wall. There are some things I don’t want my twin brother to see or read, you know?

But facebook’s limited profile is insufficient. Unlike Livejournal’s “custom friends groups” options, I cannot create multiple lists and create a different profile view for different persons. There are some people who should see my wall but not my photos. The friends who know me very well should be able to see my contact information, but not others. Unfortunately, It’s an “A or B only” with facebook. When I add a friend and choose the settings they either get to see everything, or what I’ve set on the limited profile list. I can’t have different settings for different friends.

2) Privacy, Entitlement, and Friendship in the digital age:

This brings me to my second concern: people know when you’re limiting access to what they can see. And there’s not yet a clearly established code of ettiquette for social networking. Friendships and relationships can be created, validated, and destroyed through social networking. (This could be another post entirely – but in brief summation: friendships and relationships are considered more official when they are confirmed through facebook, and deleting or de-friending someone from facebook, myspace, or the blogging agent of your choice is considered tantamount to saying “I don’t want to speak to you again.”)

Much as in face to face social situations, people who take precautions to guard their privacy on the internet are often seen by Gen Y-ers as standoffish and somewhat conceited. People get offended when they know they can’t see everything but someone else can. Similarly, they get offended when they know they can’t be seen. One’s placement in a friend’s myspace Top 8 is often considered to indicate that you are “best friends.”–so naturally, someone’s going to get offended if they’re left out of the favorites list. Those who are on the limited end of a limited profile tend to feel the same way–unfavored, with the additional insult that this person is preventing them from getting to know them.

Privacy on the Internet is immensely political.

3) Finally, I want to address my friend’s concern that nothing good can come from Spokeo.

Not only is it a way for you to reconnect with someone via multiple avenues – it’s a way for you to discover social networking tools that you might not use otherwise. And it’s a way to find out more about the person who never puts too much information in one place but is happy to share quite a bit. Maybe they have a very limited facebook profile but prefer to share their photos via a protected flickr account. Maybe they create and share music via iMeem. Yes, spokeo, like any social networking tool, can be overused and abused – but if anything it’s a sensible way to monitor web presence.

My personal philosophy on internet privacy is to keep private anything I wouldn’t want a co-worker, family member, or my boss to see. It’s something to keep in mind while you’re blogging and networking.