If Google's rumored $500m acquisition of Yelp goes through, the search giant may finally get a solid lock on the "hyperlocal" Web. But it'll also be acquiring a big community site--and those are notoriously hard to wrangle.
Restaurant industry blog Eater might have put it best: "One can only assume that with Google's muscle behind the site, the millions of users who log on to complain about restaurants would be able to say stupid stuff faster, and with more efficiency," editor Amanda Kludt wrote on Friday.
All snark aside, it's the same sort of issue that arose a few years ago amid persistent rumors that Google was going to acquire Digg, another site reliant on heavy participation from a loyal and extremely vocal community. The questions are more or less similar: What would Google change, and how much would they change it? Does Google's massive scope make it untrustworthy?
Yelp's official word: "Yelp is approached frequently by numerous entities to discuss partnerships, investments and more, and the company does not comment on private discussions that may occur."
Truth be told, the state of Yelp's forums on Friday indicated that many were more interested in talking about "Why are NYC apartment brokers such d-bags?" and "The official 'Jersey Shore' on MTV thread" than about whether Yelp might get sucked up by the Google monster. But a few threads did emerge, and the gist seems to be pretty much the same: They better not change too much. And please keep throwing parties.
"I wonder how this will effect Elite parties as well as Yelp Talk?" one Yelper asked in a Bay Area-centric thread about the acquisition. Another said, "So long as it's not Rupert Murdoch buying it." Some Yelpers were optimistic, suggesting that maybe there would be better integration with Google maps or additional technical improvements.
But others were concerned about quality control. "It means more trolls and fake reviews," one Yelper griped.
"Anyone ever look at the comments on YouTube videos?" another asked. "That is what is gonna happen here."
There were a few threats of account deletion, like "If this happens, I'm deleting my profile" and "Yelp is big because of us. Let's demand money or delete our accounts en masse." Generally, those aren't any real indicator of community revolt, but they're a reminder that it's extremely possible for a big buyer of a community site to mess things up big-time. LiveJournal users weren't thrilled about its Six Apart ownership, which ultimately failed. Likewise, when News Corp. acquired social network MySpace, mismanagement and a lack of innovation were likely what led to a drop in traffic and the eventual dominance of Facebook.
Worth a read: Yelpers' reviews of Google HQ in Mountain View, Calif. Choice bits range from "Google has lots of yummy, organic snacks and drinks" to "They have way too many skunks after 7 p.m. nightly and raccoons living on the Google campus."
This post was updated at 10:48 a.m. PT with comment from Yelp.