Summary:

By Jemima Kiss: It won’t be good news for Trusted Places, Brownbook or YourLocalLondon, but the well-established US listings and reviews sit…

By Jemima Kiss: It won’t be good news for Trusted Places, Brownbook or YourLocalLondon, but the well-established US listings and reviews site Yelp.com is launching in the UK tomorrow, kicking off with a dedicated London site. Sprinkled with a few suitably colloquialisms and run by the soon-to-be-recruited community manager (get those applications in now!), Yelp London will have the usual mix of diverse reviews across everything from restaurants, shops, events and churches to parks, manicurists and local schools. If it exists in the real world, you can review it on Yelp.

Yelp will also bring its community events from the US; the most recent event in San Francisco saw 2,500 Yelpers meet up to share their enthusiasm for reviewing. It might seem odd, but as ever online the delight is in the detail here. There are hordes of Yelpers lost deep in the long tail; Ed U in San Francisco has built something of a cult following (and a travel writing gig to boot) on the back of his detailed and painstaking reviews, and there’s the cocktail reviewing doctor, the 86 year-old ex-Broadway guy in New York and the ‘Destroy Your Liver’ bar reviewers. Lively, it certainly is.

Perhaps more relevantly, Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman said the London expansion is a response to user demand. Of the 16 million users during November 2008, 100,000 are already UK based – most of them using the site as a travel guide when they visit the US. Despite that, isn’t it a strange time to be expanding a business? Most startups are consolidating, focusing on their core products and markets and cutting out extra costs. Is it a good time to be expanding the business and taking on new staff?

“The best time to grow is when others are struggling,” Stoppelman told MediaGuardian. “We are certainly being cautious and strategic, and we’d be expanding to more places if times were better, but we have a great product and we’re ahead of revenues. We know what we’re doing, we know our formula and we know the places that are important to us.”

Ad sales are not catastrophically bad, he said, but they are slower and there’s a shift in spending towards the more stable categories. Yelp is funded by a string of well-known names including Benchmark, with funding up to $21 million. All local businesses are listed on the site by default (Yelp buys general business listings date to propagate the site) and firms can then ‘claim a basic listing for free or pay between $300 and $1,000 for an enhanced listing with slide shows of photos, no ads for competing businesses, and so on. It’s a familiar model.

In the UK, Yelp’s competition will include Yell.com and TimeOut, though the site’s offering is pitched somewhere between pure business listings and editorial. It’s the smaller, specialist sites like Trusted Places that will watch its development with interest. Yelp certainly think London is worth their time and investment, but will there be the appetite here?

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This article originally appeared in © Guardian News & Media Ltd..

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