Recently, my kids (heh, in their 20s) let me know that they don’t use Yelp. That actually surprised and puzzled me. Not specifically because of Yelp, but instead because there’s a societal benefit that’s possibly being undermined or abandoned. I may be naive, but I think that we may be missing an opportunity. So here’s my exploration of a potential new common tragedy.
The idea of the commons is simple, though also somewhat controversial. There’s a shared resource. In the traditional economic model, it’s limited. Thus, everyone taking advantage of it ends up ruining the resource (the infamous ‘tragedy of the commons’). In this case, however, the potential tragedy is different.
Information, as has been said, wants to be free. With the internet, it’s almost that way, and there are almost zero limits on the information (for better or worse). We can take advantage of the information for little more than the cost of a browser-capable device and an internet connection (which can come just with a cup of coffee ;). We can also contribute. That’s social media.
That’s been the premise of some of the more powerful ideas of the internet. If we share information, we can all benefit. Thus, we should offer up information and in return get the benefit. We don’t have to offer it, but if we do we all benefit. It’s cooperation. Social media has led to many great wins. My colleague and friend, Paul Signorelli, has a new book just on that! In his Change the World Using Social Media, he says “social media platforms can…produce positive change”. Of course, there are also problematic uses. The ways in which certain platforms (*cough* Facebook *cough*) have been used to spread misinformation is a caution. Yet, I believe these are problems that are solvable.
Now, Yelp is a service where people can share reviews of almost any service: repairs, meals, … And it’s just an example, there are other ways people share information, such as Wikipedia, NextDoor, etc. Yelp got off to a somewhat idiosyncratic start, owing to claims of favoritism. However, it’s now relatively reliable, I believe. (Am I wrong?)
The possibility is that if everyone fairly uses such as service, that everyone benefits. You do have to offer your own input, but you gain from others. Of course, the service itself must be principled, including a way to self-repair any problems. There can be more than one, though one tends to end up being dominant.
What’s problematic, to me, is why people wouldn’t participate. For example, my kids. For one, there’s a belief that people only write negative reviews. Yet we do see businesses with ratings from 3 to 5, so clearly there are positive reviews (I’ve done both). Yelp has helped me find good places to eat and get valuable services. I’ve likewise shared my experiences, to help others.
However, what may not be solvable is getting people on board with the idea of the benefit. If we turn away from this opportunity, we end up losing 0ut. Yes, I can be an idealist, but I’d hope that we can see the ultimate benefit that can be obtained. Across many platforms, ideally. I’d like to avoid a new common tragedy. I’m also willing to be wrong, so I welcome feedback.