Blog

A Review of Yelp Reviews: Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

Computer Services Reviews on Yelp

Early on in my career as a computer service professional, I realized the importance of referrals and word-of-mouth advertising. So I decided to list my business on several review sites in order to gain positive reviews and increased business.

y-2

A review site is a website on which users can write and read about people, businesses, products, or services. Yelp.com is a popular review site that offers users a convenient way to seek out new and highly-rated restaurants, write a review on their favorite (or not so favorite) business, or create their own business page.

Consumers and business owners alike love review sites, because they all provide a “word-of-mouth” sense of community and trustworthiness. Yelp’s slogan “Real People. Real Reviews ®” embodies this attitude, and the company’s commitment to providing “real reviews” is so strong that it only scores 3 out of 5 stars: on its own website!

But how can Yelp allow people to use its service for free? How do review sites stay in business?

Paying For and Filtering Reviews

Yelp.com, like many review sites, is supported by advertising. And as a popular site (#170 in Alexa.com worldwide rankings at the time of this writing), Yelp.com may charge a considerable fee to allow businesses to advertise with them.

However, critics of the review company say that it unfairly gives its biggest advertisers a higher ranking in search results, or that it punishes and decreases the rankings of businesses that refuse to purchase Yelp ads. Spokespeople from Yelp have repeatedly denied these allegations, responding that the company does everything it can to ensure that the reviews on its site remain real and unbiased.

To help address these credibility problems, the company has instituted a review “filter”: a computer program which determines if a review is legitimate and thus displayed in search results, or suspected as a fake and then filtered out. The filter periodically re-evaluates each review, so that previously un-filtered reviews may disappear, and old filtered reviews may come back.

Silverleaf Computer Services – Filtered!

filtered-reviews-2

So I listed my business on Yelp, and clients have written reviews for me. Now, when a person looking for “computer services” near “van nuys” types these terms into Yelp’s search engine, they may find my business near the top. They can click the link to read reviews about the business, where currently only 3 of a total 11 reviews are displayed. One can still find these filtered reviews, but they do not count towards the overall rating.

The majority of reviews for Silverleaf Computer Services weren’t always filtered out: in fact, the filtering soon began after a phone call I received one day. “Billy” from the Yelp Ad Department called to comment on how great my business was doing in search results. He also wanted to know if I felt that my business benefited from being in Yelp (which it has), and asked if I’d be interested in advertising with them.

I politely declined.

Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

I’m not going to bash Yelp.com for unfairly filtering my reviews as punishment for not buying ads. On the contrary, I’ve come to understand that even though these reviews were written to help my business, they are part of an online community that Yelp owns and maintains, and are not “my” reviews.

All review content (though user-generated) effectively becomes the property of the website on which it is written. Yelp, or any ad-driven site, may provide or deny access to its own content as it sees fit: if the site wants to use this valuable content as incentive for advertisers, then it may do so as a viable marketing strategy.

But people who rely on review sites (or any search engine for that matter) for information should realize that these websites are ad-driven, and are NOT free of bias. And while search engines are powerful information-finding tools and do a good job of providing relevant information, search engine results should be taken with a grain of salt because any company that gathers, organizes, and ultimately controls what information is displayed on the Web also has the power to NOT display certain information.

In conclusion, do not simply rely on companies like Yelp or Google to provide only “good” information while filtering out the “bad.” Such reliance can leave you open to manipulation by advertisers, or worse, information filtering and censorship.

Data Recovery: Dealing With Loss (And Hard Drive Failure)

My computer and I were getting along just fine: I could run all sorts of applications simultaneously and quickly, I could play all of my games on maximum graphics settings, and I had seemingly unlimited access to photos, videos, and any other data I wanted.

All of that changed one day. I turned on my computer in the morning, only to be greeted by errors, strange noises, and no data. The operating system wouldn’t even boot up, and from the sound of things it seemed like I had a failed hard drive.

“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just recover my files using this handy external hard drive backup.” I plugged the external drive into another computer to prepare for the data recovery process, only to discover a terrible truth: My backed up data was over 6 MONTHS OLD.

I panicked as I realized that all of my data was either lost or obsolete. In despair, I wondered: how could this have happened?

Hard Drive Diagnostic and File Recovery

As one of the only moving parts in a computer, a hard disk drive is especially prone to mechanical failure. The platters (sensitive magnetic discs where data is stored) spin at 7200RPM, while the actuator head (analogous to the needle on a record player) continuously moves back and forth, reading and writing data. These components are sealed in a metal shell, impervious to data-destroying dust and other contaminants.

Although a hard drive diagnostic may show warning signs of a failing drive, even the highest-quality and best-maintained hard drives can die at any time. Critical data can become corrupted, making it difficult to retrieve usable data from the drive. Even worse, the motors controlling the spindle or actuator can fail: in this case, file recovery requires that the drive be disassembled in a clean room, which is a very expensive procedure.

How I Recover My Files: With a Recovery Disk

Fortunately, I was able to recover my files and my operating system because I had a recovery disk: a special disc that allows you to re-install your operating system in case of an emergency.

The best way to guard against hard drive failure and data loss is to backup, backup, backup! Seriously, back up your data. Regularly backing up your data ensures that you will have an up-to-date copy of your information when a hard drive crash occurs. Invest in an external hard drive, and use it to keep backup copies of your data.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the importance of performing regular backups until their primary hard drive crashes. If a victim of hard drive failure has a backup, then data recovery is a simple process of copying the backed-up data to the newly-installed hard drive. However, without a proper recovery disk, not only will some or all data be lost, but an expensive operating system re-installation could be required.

Invest a little time and money now in a backup solution, or pay big time later on when your computer’s hard drive crashes!

For help with data recovery or installing a backup drive, please contact me.

How to Buy a Quality Laptop (and Avoid Laptop Repair)

Laptop Uses: Which is Best For You?

After a few years, even the fastest and most-reliable computers can begin to lose steam. Even worse, for those unfortunate enough to be stuck with an unreliable laptop as their primary home/work machine, paying for laptop repair is too costly. In this case, it makes more sense to purchase a new laptop: but how does one choose?

The answer to this depends on a more important question: what will you be using the laptop for? For light use, a small netbook is enough to browse the web and check email (tablet computers are perfect for these simple functions as well). For use as a work machine, a durable frame and ample processing/memory capabilities are key. Serious gamers and graphics artists, however, may find that laptops simply do not offer enough graphics rendering capability, and may consider a desktop instead.

What Really Matters (Regardless of Primary Function)

So you’ve decided on what you want to do with your new laptop, but there are so many different models and specs that making the right choice can be difficult. Regardless of function, there are a few other important factors to consider:

Durability: since laptop computers are designed for on-the-go use, it makes sense that a well-designed laptop should be durable enough to withstand such use. Look for a model with a solid aluminum (not plastic) case. A durable shell is essential: if the computer is dropped or damaged, it is oftentimes prohibitively costly to do screen replacements, motherboard replacements, and other expensive laptop repairs.

Heat Dissipation: Laptops are especially susceptible to overheating because they are built with relatively small air ducts, heat sinks, and fans. When buying a new laptop, consider a model that does NOT have a downward-facing air intake, but rather air intake ports positioned on either the side or front of the case.

Mac Versus PC

Mac cultists and PC geeks can argue all they want about design, function, and performance, but the only real differences between Macs and PCs are their costs.

With a whopping $1999 price tag, the Mac Book Pro’s high initial cost is offset by long-term laptop repair savings. Mac fans will gladly pay a high price for their devices: their trust in the Apple brand ensures that they are investing in a high-quality product that is backed by a reputable company. If their laptop is ever in need of repair, the Apple Store will usually take care of it.

PC laptops, while almost identical to Macs in terms of hardware and performance, are significantly less expensive. However, buying a cheaply-made PC brand laptop can mean increased long-term expenses in the form of costly laptop repairs. Additionally, there is no “PC Store” that will take care of all of your repair requests, and some PC brands are notorious for having bad customer service.

In the end, buy the laptop that meets your budget and performance needs, but pay special attention to factors like durability, cooling capacity, and upgrade capacity. And if you need some professional buying advice or affordable laptop repair, please contact me.

Socially Engineered Malware: Your New Facebook Friend

Embarrassing confession: I was tricked into downloading a computer virus.

Socially Engineered Malware: Your New Facebook Friend

Last week, a high school friend of mine sent me a “Group Invite” message on Facebook®. The message urged all recipients to “help out my friend by ‘liking’ her page”, and included a link to said page. Being the helpful friend that I am, I decided to “CLICK HERE!”

Then, something strange happened: when I tried sharing the link by “Attaching” the URL into a message to a friend, Facebook did not correctly generate a description of the link. Instead, it only displayed random JavaScript code…

I knew immediately that I was infected with a virus. Shamefully, I asked myself: how could a supposed computer professional like me download a virus?

The answer: I was tricked!

Socially Engineered Malware

While some types of malicious software (malware) work by exploiting technical loopholes in a computer system, socially engineered malware exploits weaknesses in human nature. Even Mac users, with their perceived immunity to computer viruses, are not safe: without any technology dependencies, socially engineered malware can target users running either Windows or OS X.

From a cyber criminal’s perspective, tricking users into downloading and installing malware is a preferred means of attack. By manipulating trust (rather than hacking software), criminals may cast a wider net and target more victims. And the implied trust relationships inherent in social networking sites, such as Facebook, make them full of perfect targets for socially engineered attacks.

I, for one, certainly did not expect that the link sent to me by a friend would contain a virus: those clever hackers exploited my trust in my social network, and mislead me into clicking on the infected link (so you see, it wasn’t my fault).

Protecting Yourself against Socially Engineered Malware

I could have had all of the “smart” filters, firewalls, and anti-virus programs in the world installed and still downloaded that virus. Although these tools together do a good job of preventing most malware downloads, ultimately it is was me that made the decision about what to click.

Socially Engineered Malware: Anti-Virus Programs

It is therefore very important to “look before you click.” If you suspect a bad link, do a bit of research and mouse-over the link (without clicking!) and look at the preview URL that your browser will display. Pay special attention to the domain name (i.e. www.silverleafcs.com), and make sure that it is one that you recognize: if you notice random-looking characters and numbers in the domain name, this is a telltale sign that the URL could be an automatically-generated malicious site.

So the next time somebody (even a friend) sends you a link entitled OMG i cant believe she posted this LOL click here NOW, exercise a bit of caution. Clicking responsibly can mean the difference between discovering a new hilarious video, or even more hilariously (for the hackers), downloading socially engineered malware.

And if you do happen to accidentally download something bad, don’t be embarrassed, just click here. (link tested to be 99.9% malware-free)