Apple(s AAPL) CEO Tim Cook has already apologized for the problems associated with the company’s Maps app but missed is one of the flaws that impacts real-world usability: the integration with Yelp(s YELP). Apple Maps, like Siri, uses Yelp to find some types of businesses. It’s a partnership that Apple has highlighted, but one that needs more scrutiny.
There’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence already offered that Maps needs work — at times location data is missing or directions were wrong. But on more than one occasion Maps have led users astray because of the user-sourced business information that Apple is using from Yelp.
For instance, a Maps search for Napa Auto Parts in San Carlos, Calif. finds the location at 560 El Camino Real. Maps shows the location has 13 reviews from Yelp. Now, that may have actually been an automotive supply store at some point, but as of this week it’s a restaurant serving wood-fired pizza. Yelp — and Maps — however, still think it’s a Napa Auto Parts. In another example, a recent search for Hotel Abri in downtown San Francisco places it a block and a half from where the hotel is actually located, as you can see in the photo.
Yelp is a great way to find out about local businesses, especially restaurants. As a business owner I manage a Yelp page. Something important to know about it is that venue data can be added by any Yelp user, while Google(s GOOG), by comparison, requires verification by a business owner to confirm the location.
I experienced this first-hand at my business: Yelp added my business without confirmation. Yelp’s user-based approach can lead to multiple venues entered, prospective businesses that add data but never open, and businesses that are closed but never get removed from Yelp. This is a problem that check-in service Foursquare often faces, but Foursquare’s process includes “SuperUsers” who volunteer to keep the data clean and tidy. (Disclosure: I am a Foursquare Superuser.)
Yelp lets anyone add businesses without verification of accuracy, but most of Yelp’s information is “curated,” rather than crowdsourced like Google’s (and Google’s integration of Zagat). Community managers who work for Yelp are primarily responsible for the management of duplicate venues.
A good example, shown below, showing this issue occurred when I searched both Yelp and Google Maps in a browser for an Italian restaurant nearby in my neighborhood in Lawrence, Kan. Yelp’s results showed me one venue that was closed (Cupinis), one venue that was never opened (Fat Tony’s) and one duplicate venue (Genovese). Google’s results had no duplicates. One venue was closed (Pizza Hut) but that business had just recently changed hands. If I were looking for Italian, I’d be sorely disappointed with Yelp.
Additionally, Yelp favors reviews by “Elites” over the reviews of regular users, and Yelp’s undisclosed “filter” algorithms determine what reviews you actually see. On the iOS 6 Maps app as well as the Yelp app, users cannot view these filtered reviews and may be missing key reviews. For example, the Squeeze In Restaurant, a local diner in Reno, Nev. The Squeeze In currently has 70 visible reviews but there are 127 filtered reviews you can’t see from iOS Maps. These are usually not “spam” reviews, but valid reviews from real customers that Yelp arbitrarily removes.
Even my own business has 80 percent of its reviews filtered. For the true review results, you’ll need to load the Yelp site in Safari and fill out a captcha (they make you work to see these reviews). When searching, I’d like to make the decision as to which reviews are relevent, and I don’t need Yelp’s biashiding data from me. A map app that removes a significant portion of the point-of-interest data is not a map I can rely on.
Apple and Yelp did not respond to a request for comment.
Tim Cook has said, “The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get.” Yelp’s quirky curation approach with hidden reviews and out-of-date venues will continue to degrade search results and map quality and more customer use won’t fix that problem. Hopefully Apple can work with Yelp for more accurate business listings and reviews in the future as they continue to fix and enhance Maps.