Longtime readers will know that this blog has a wonderful history with the online blackmail racket known as Yelp. You can see our whole tag string here, and enjoy the run-ins we had with various Yelptards, such as Butt Plug Girl and her angry boyfriend, who were upset about many things, including a bad lap dance in Las Vegas; Pube Face; Big Mama Gummy Bear; and of course, Bike Helmet Girl, who later almost became my lover. I’ve especially always had a warm spot in my heart for Yelp founder Jeremy Stoppelman (photo above), who I said “appears to be just the kind of sociopathic nouveau riche lady killer that I’ve always admired.”
Well, it turns out I had no idea how much of an evil fucker this guy actually is.
Nor did I really understand the true nature of his business, which is, I have to admit, kind of brilliant. Because now it’s coming out, in a lawsuit that just got filed against Yelp, that what Yelp has done is harnessed the angry energy of its Yelptard army to create a pretty awesome little shakedown racket. Works like this. Sub-normal IQ Yelptards visit your restaurant, or dry cleaner, or whatever. They go home and write mean, unfair, borderline libelous things about your business. This of course drives away business.
But in comes Jeremy Stoppelman to save you — all you need to do is buy ads from Yelp, and they’ll let you put a really nice positive review (say, by you or one of your friends) at the top of the list, so that’s what people see first. There’s also some belief that if you pay up, maybe some of the bad stuff gets erased altogether, though I guess Yelp swears that this never, ever, ever happens, swear to God, cross my heart and hope to die, because we’re really super honest Web 2.0 guys who just to make the world a better place and have really loads of integrity because trust is the foundation of our business and if our customers don’t trust us then they will just go to another site and our competition is only a click away, so we actually have created a system in which we’re disincentivized from doing any that’s even remotely scuzzy and if people don’t believe that it’s probably just because they’re olds who don’t really understand how the Web works and we just need to invest more effort into educating them.
In other words, it’s the Google defense. All of these dirtbags — Zynga, now Yelp — have read that bullshit from Google so many times that they’ve just internalized it and can say it in their sleep.
Truth is, they’re all venture funded, and they’re all run by scammers who, if the Web did not exist, would most likely be selling either cars or drugs, or both. The truth about their business model is that it’s not built on trust, but quite the opposite. The real incentive is for these guys to “do every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues,” as Mark Pincus of Zynga was caught on tape admitting.
I call it the Zynga moment, and every Web company, even Google, has it — it’s when you start out saying there’s all these scumbaggy things we’ll never do because they’re just too evil, but then when Plan A doesn’t generate any revenue, and Plans B and C fail too, well, your investors hold a come-to-Jesus meeting and here comes your Zynga moment, when you realize that you’re just going to have to give in and start doing all those things you said you’d never do. If you’re Zynga, or Yelp, you’re doing this to stay alive, and you rationalize it by saying that (a) your investors made you do it; or (b) even if you sell a little bit of your soul that’s just so you can stay in business and accomplish the really, really important and transformative things that were the original goal of the company. If you’re Google, you’re doing it not to stay alive, but because you realize that your core business model, as wonderful as it is, can only take you so far, and if you want to achieve any kind of growth, well, it’s time to start fucking people over.
FWIW, the best indication that Yelp is a mess is the fact that not long ago, Bono’s investment company, Elevation Partners, said it would invest up to $100 million into the company. I don’t mean to be a dick, but Elevation’s other big investments have been in Forbes magazine, which may or may not still be in business, and Palm, which is in business but won’t be for long. Not saying Yelp is doomed or anything, because let’s face it, blackmail is a hell of a business. But Elevation does not have a record of backing winners. They’re bottom feeders, and if they back you it probably means that someday, down the road, they’re going to take you apart and sell you for scrap.