On September 23rd, the New York State Attorney General’s office busted almost two dozen New York businesses as a result of its intricately planned sting investigation “Operation Clean Turf”. The companies in question weren’t dodging taxes, selling drugs, or cooking the books–they were posting fake reviews on on sites like Yelp, Google, and CitySearch.com.
You’ve been there before, scrolling through page after page of Yelp reviews, and you keep coming across plugs that are so painfully enthusiastic you’re sure someone paid for it to be there. Well, you’re right–a lot of them have been paid for.
Having positive online reviews for your business has become so vital that entire consulting firms have emerged specializing only in producing fake ones to inflate that precious star rating. The practice has been dubbed “astroturfing”–as in the opposite of “grassroots” and the source of the name, “Operation Clean Turf”.
The Attorney General’s office hired one of these astroturfing firms while pretending to be a “yogurt shop in Brooklyn”. The firm, in turn, hired freelance writers in the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Eastern Europe and paid them around a dollar per review on the targeted companies. Investigating these channels led the AG to no less than 19 New York businesses that had also hired the firm to pump up their image. It’s illegal to lie to consumers, and these businesses will pay anywhere from $2,500 to $100,000 for a collective total of $350,000 in total fines for all 19 companies.
Yelp has lauded the crackdown and thanked the office for helping keep their site clean, but Attorney General Eric Schneiderman believes that the problem is much bigger than just one sting, “This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution.”
This isn’t the first time Yelp has struggled with fake reviews and it most likely won’t be the last. The system that sites like Yelp have imposed on small businesses has created an environment where even a half star rating difference can equate to 30%-49% more sales. It forced businesses to keep the numbers up by any means necessary, and that desperation created review fakers. A recent study on all the reviews in Boston determined that as many as 16 percent of all the submitted reviews were fakes.
Online reviews are here to stay, and any system where you can’t confirm the identity of the critic is going to be exploited. Using the wisdom of the crowd can be an invaluable tool when exploring and discovering in a new area, but be aware, the crowd might be using you…
This week’s Three come from Valerie Wirtschafter, a global health consultant whose post has taken her everywhere from New York City to Kuala Lumpur. Her latest escapade has her spending a few months in the Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. And although she’s only been on the scene a couple of weeks, Val’s already found some amazing spots worth seeking out if you ever find yourself in the “Marvelous City”.
Rio de Janeiro represents the best and, for lack of a better word, the most challenging aspects of urban life blended together and splashed along the coast. Whatever your perception, it is unlike any other city I’ve ever been to. Awe-inspiring for its natural landscape – the way picturesque hills rise up from the ocean and the calming water of the lake sits not a mile from the bustling beaches of Ipanema – and shocking for its gritty and overt glimpse into poverty – the favelas, looking like neglected building piles that are eternally under construction.
Rio is already in the spotlight and will be even more so in the years to come, what with the World Cup and the Olympics and all. I’m here for a few months working on possibly the third biggest event to hit the Cidade Maravilhosa, a global health innovation conference (just kidding, that would be a nightmare to help plan).
As an avid food junkie and a fan of scoping out the best cocktails in town, I’m excited to bring you my top three spots in Rio de Janeiro so far, and I’ve got five weeks to go.
1. Eat: TT Burger
$ Rua Francisco Otaviano – 67, Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro – RJ
Even though they may not know it here in Rio, TT Burger is the latest in a long line of culinary dynasties to expand to the masses. For anyone who lives in New York City (or Dubai?), think what Shake Shack is to Danny Meyer of Blue Smoke fame. Run by the next in line of the Troisgros dynasty – a family of chefs that goes four generations deep and is famous for its Nouvelle Cuisine Française adaptation of “meat on a sword” – TT Burger makes one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had in my life. No, really, I was shocked too.
At TT Burger the menu is essentially one item: a giant patty of delicious Brazilian ground beef, with guava ketchup, minas cheese and pickled caju. They opened in late August of 2013, and they’ve still definitely got a few kinks to work out in the system, but boy is that burger good. Take it to go and eat it while watching the sunset at Praia Arpoador. It will be the best sequence of decisions you make all day.
2. Drink: Beco do Rato
$ Rua Joaquim Silva 11 – Lapa – Rio de Janeiro
As far as I’m aware, Beco do Rato is a quintessential samba bar. Seated samba to be exact (so that musicians can drink their beers too). I went on a Friday night with a co-worker, and it was a fantastic time. Everyone is friendly. Everyone is dancing. Everyone knows all of the lyrics to all of the songs. Get a nearly frozen 600ml bottle of Antarctica, one of the national beers (It’s definitely not pronounced the way you’d think. Neither is “feedback,” which is also a word in Portuguese). I guarantee you won’t be sitting for too long, though, as one of the 70+ year old samba “roundtable” regulars will sweep you off your feet to teach you the steps.
NOTE: Although there are tons of people around on weekends, Lapa isn’t the safest part of town, though it’s a far cry from the worst. Just don’t be stupid, and don’t roam into dark alleys, and all those rules you learned when you were a kid.
3. Visit: Pão de Açúcar + Urca
$$ Av. Pasteur, 520 – Urca, Rio de Janeiro
Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) is one of the most tourist-y sites in the city. However, not only is it a gem, but the surrounding neighborhood of Urca is also a site to behold and welcomed respite from the bustling streets of Copacabana and the crowded beaches of Ipanema. Here’s how you make a day of it. Take the bus (the 511 to be exact) to Urca. Hop on the cable car (who doesn’t love a cable car!?) up to Morro da Urca. Continue up to Sugarloaf Mountain (get it, because it looks like a loaf of sugar?). Gasp at the views of Guanabara Bay, Copacabana, Cristo Redentor and those crazy rock climbers trying to get up to the panoramic vistas for free (entrance fee: about US$25).
Once you get back down to sea level, take a walk along the Claudio Coutinho Trail. There are so many adorable monkeys along this trail. Don’t get too close, though. I hear they bite fingers off! Once you’ve taken a nice stroll, reward yourself for your exercise by heading over to Bar Urca. Sit along the stone wall with dozens of Brazilian day-drinkers; drink an ice cold beer and snack on some bolinhas de bacalhau (fried codfish balls); enjoy the day and the beautiful view of the Guanabara Bay.
I’d like to introduce a new segment on the HearBy blog, The Thursday Three, where bloggers, guests, and friends recommend three of their favorite places. HearBy’s going to be all about finding the best spots from the people you know, so why not get a head start while we’re finishing up development? This first segment will be from me, David, a co-founder and marketing lead at HearBy and my favorites in Philly.
When Matt and I moved to Philadelphia to start working on HearBy full time, I honestly had little hope for the food here. I was coming from Los Angeles where I could get as much cheap and delicious Thai and Mexican food I could ever want, and had low expectations for the sandwich (or “hoagie”, in the local parlance) capitol of the country.
But boy was I wrong! Philly’s been an amazing place to eat, drink, and just generally have a good time. Even though I’ve been here barely two months, I’ve found a lot of cool places. Here are just a sample of three:
1. Jose’s Tacos
$ Mexican, Tacos
469 N 10th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123
When I move to a new place, I try to absorb the local flavors for a few weeks, but soon enough I have to satiate my craving for the food I grew up on: Mexican. I was a few days into my search when I stumbled into Jose’s just looking for a quick bite before a show at Union Transfer, and my God, what a find it was!
This place feels like a taqueria was plucked from a southwest border town and then dropped on a Philly street corner. There’s Jarrito’s and Mexican cane sugar Pepsi in the fridge, the chicken “de tinga” has been stewing for days, and the guacamole lets the avocado do the talking. Plus, unless you have a Joey Chestnut size stomach, you’d be hard pressed to finish more than $10 worth of food here–their massive burritos are only $6.
2. The Dolphin Tavern
$ Bar, Club
1539 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
I’ve been to a lot of bars and I’ve been to a lot of clubs but I’d never experienced a place like The Dolphin before. This South Philly gem has it all: minimally clad go-go dancers, a massive dance floor with light up Tetris-like walls, $2.50 PBRs, and thumping beats by some of the best DJ’s in town.
All of those things on their own are great, but The Dolphin is way more than the sum of its parts. Despite the certifiably hipster clientele, I’ve never been to a place that was so easy-going and unpretentious. Doesn’t matter if it’s 7pm on a Tuesday or 1am on a Friday, everyone there’s just looking to let go and have a good time. It may not seem like a lot at first, but The Dolphin will slowly work its magic on you and you’ll be thrashing your heart out on the dance floor before you know it.
3. Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
$$$ Shop, Clothing
116 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
I’ve been writing about menswear for over a year now at Rawr Denim and Repository, so I always have to scope out the local shops whenever I’m in a new city and Art in the Age is about as good as it gets. like all the best boutiques, it provides a wonderful confluence between what’s on trend in the fashion world with the local aesthetic.
Everything inside is immaculately curated, from their house label sprits and soap to Philly denim from Norman Porter, there’s even a full service Warby Parker shop and incandescent Edison bulbs for sale in this deep space. Make sure you ask for a sample of some of the house made spirits–their Root might be the best I’ve ever had.
Any interest in featuring your own Thursday Three? Shoot us an email at email@example.com or tweet us @hearbyco.