This logo has struck fear or complete elation into the hearts of business owners everywhere. Well, in the U.S., Canada and U.K. anyway. Restaurants proudly sport them like boy scout badges while those without, are probably working towards the day when they finally receive the notice in their inbox. Why this obsession with an almost entirely consumer generated website?

Those wielding spatulas like to follow food blogs of which there are bajillions, only slightly exaggerating. Those of us who like to eat out 8 times a week? We cling to Yelp! like a life preserver.

According to smSmallBiz.com, “Yelp drew nearly 29 million unique visitors in September.” Now those are some impressive looking stats. Not surprisingly, a lot of visitors use the site to check on which restaurants they should eat at when they visit a new city, what the local tips are for a particular venue or bar and so on. It’s actually a smaller percentage that take the trouble to create accounts and actively review on a regular basis. And that’s where I come in.

You see that screenshot to the right? —> Dagnabit, I sweated blood and tears to earn that ’09 badge. It’s not the sporadic Yelp! users you should watch out for but the the ones knighted with the coveted red elite badges. Elite are intense – hundreds of reviews, dozens of uploaded photos, the first to review the 100,000th Starbucks in Seattle and all over the “Talk” pages (basically message boards for Yelpers.) And business owners take ’em (er, *us)  seriously. 2-star reviews with constructive criticism alert owners to quickly backpedal and ask the community what they can do better next time. Some owners get a tad too unethical and try to offer cold hard cash or comps in hopes of getting better reviews.

Yelp! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1.  Obviously fake spam reviews are almost immediately flagged, pitchforks are raised and then taken down.

2.  You can review almost anything. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. so go ahead and add the new hot dog stand that opened up down the street. Unless someone else already beat you to it.

3.  Elites are real. From glancing through our reviews alone, you can tell what nightlife haunts the reviewer likes to frequent, whether they’re vegetarian or hard-core carnivores and if they’re willing to endure flippant service for dirt cheap happy hour prices.

Elites are invited to exclusive wine and dine type of events which only further bolsters the community feeling you get out of being a regular. New transplants to Seattle and other cities even join Yelp! as a way to meet others and feel welcomed. And I can honestly say that I’ve seen a romance blossom b/w two Yelpers. *wink*

And last but not least, Yelp! can boast of being the iPhone’s first augmented reality app. I’m not sure if it’s still in Easter egg mode (sorry, I’m a happy android user.) You download and shake shake shake to activate. It then layers nearby venues, you can point at a restaurant and it’ll show details and so on. Insane right?

My URL: faithy.yelp.com

Current ♫: Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns. Now I know where the theme from Edward Scissorhands might have gotten its roots.