Yelp, the king of crowdsourced consumer opinion on all things, has given authors the power to add video from their iPhones to reviews.

As the company says in its blog, short videos will give contributors the power to capture elements such as ambiance and noise level to give their remarks a sense of greater authenticity and (perhaps) authority. Given the connection between Yelpers and their mobile phones, adding three- to 12-second videos seems like a logical step, the company added in its blog post. Yelp added photos to its reviews more than two years ago, and now says 23,000 photos are added each day. 

Android phones will be given this feature later this year.

The validity and value of Yelp’s reviews have been the focus of criticism from noted restaurateur/“I’ll-eat-anything” foodie Andrew Zimmern and even the Federal Trade Commission. Video, particularly in the hands of amateur Spielbergs and wannabe pundits, can facilitate further gaming of the system by creating fake reviews or, taken to the other extreme, promote inaccurate, inflammatory reviews. Yelp no doubt hopes the addition of videos to reviews will be met with enthusiasm by consumer contributors, its audience and advertisers as a means to get past some of the negative PR hits and legal hassles it has recently faced. 

In 2013, in his podcast, Go Fork Yourself, Zimmern called Yelp a "tremendous forum for a bunch of uninformed morons." Early this year, Ars Technica reported that the FTC has received more than 2,000 complaints in six years about Yelp reviews, with the primary charge being that the company coerces advertisers into spending money or face negative reviews. In 2013, the New York State Attorney General’s office uncovered 19 fake reviews on Yelp, created by a firm in Bangladesh that specializes in “astroturfing,” or churning out fake reviews for clients wanting to pay to increase their social profile.

PR and marketing firms have added “social media management” as part of their services arsenal, providing their clients the tools to manage negative reviews and to capitalize on positive reviews. Known as “earned media,” customer reviews from sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and others are shown to have enormous value for companies who use these accolades to point to their (generally) unsolicited consumer advocates, who lend an element of authenticity to their marketing efforts. 

Adding videos to Yelp reviews could have a positive impact for consumers, just as seeing the hotel location before booking can help you avoid a vacation fiasco. It will be up to Yelp to thoroughly vet the content before sharing it with users. 

If major review sites don’t take the time to police themselves, there is evidence local, state, and federal governmental agencies are happy to step in. In January, the Court of Appeals in Virginia ruled Yelp had to reveal the names of seven anonymous reviewers who allegedly defamed an Alexandria, Va., carpet cleaner. “There is no constitutional value in false statements of fact,” the court ruled.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (remix by Max Fleishman)