Big Platforms for Small Businesses

Posted on September 7, 2021


In traveling across the United States and Canada Kathryn and I tried to eat at small, independent businesses. Risking the occasional meal that isn't great is offset by the truly wonderful and delightful finds. I love small businesses, and one of the things I enjoyed talking about when I shared my monthly spending was how to spend based on one's values.

In this modern age we find small, independent places by searching on the massive Google platform. Google indexes all the businesses they can find and then hopes enough of them buy advertising to cover the costs. This feels a bit predatory and in the case of Yelp! and other aggregators they have aggressive sales techniques and bad platform practices to encourage payment. They also generate get to profit from the free labor of all the people posting reviews. The whole thing starts to feel weird even before you get into the desperate asks of small businesses to post positive reviews because sites like Google, Yelp, and Trip Advisor have such a huge impact on their livelihood.

While I am anti-large platform, the fact is that these platforms can help or hurt a business, and I do use them when I travel. On this trip I realized that I could probably help the small businesses I like by writing positive reviews. On the other hand, that is exactly the strategy these platforms use to extract free labor from their users and hold on to their dominant position.

Do I hold my anti-large platform stance and not participate? Or do I surrender to the inevitability of the real world and help the small business I love?

This is a proposal to accept the world as it currently exists and participate in the large platform control of small business discovery by donating my time to the large platforms in order to help in some small way to the businesses I like. A yes vote means I will start writing positive online reviews.

A no vote will support my anti-large platform belief that user-generated indexes at scale are actually harmful and I won't participate.

Past Discussion

beau πŸ’―β˜•οΈβ˜ŽοΈπŸ₯¨πŸƒπŸŒ΄πŸŒΉ (326.0 shares, voted no)
the wisdom of crowds is totally game-able, I think your approach to avoid the more game-able aspects is good πŸ‘ what could you do instead of writing a review on a mega-site?
Lewd πŸ’―πŸƒ (159.0 shares, voted yes)
Voting yes until an alternative is proposed
Rhapsos (5.0 shares, voted yes)
As Lewd says, without a good alternative, it would be better to promote these small businesses in the way available at present
eubie67 (5.0 shares, voted yes)
As a small business owner, I know potential customers look at review sites, and a positive review there helps my business. Philosophical considerations aside, I'd be disappointed to have a customer have a good experience and then not post a positive review on principle, when that positive review could have an real-world impact on my business.
@eubie67 Thank you! This kind of first hand experience with the situation is super helpful. I feel like my own dumb principles are getting in the way of being practical when I read your comment.
Ryan Bayne (1.0 shares, voted yes)
Maybe check how many reviews they have? A new place or a rarely reviewed one could probably use your vote. Somewhere that has a thousand people liking it doesn't need your time.
Richard S. Jensen β˜•οΈ (6.0 shares, voted no)
Do no evil.
krickeyb πŸ’― (385.0 shares, voted yes)
Helping promote small businesses > Taking a stand against big platforms. As much as I hate big platforms too, I recently found a local furniture cleaner through Google. It's a single person business, and the person and service were amazing. It felt like the right thing to do to post a review and hope others get pointed to this same small business.
tsanth πŸ’― (450.0 shares, voted yes)
I believe that helping small businesses through big platform online reviews is a greater good than boycotting big platforms on an individual level. Opposition to big business review platforms would be better realized through bootstrapping a larger-scale movement than through refusing to leave reviews.
Norberto Rodriguez πŸŒ΄β˜•πŸ’Ό (21.0 shares, voted no)
You’re doing enough. Stick to eating what you’ve already got on your plate.
bryantpeng (1.0 shares, voted yes)
A quick review takes minimal effort on your part and goes a long way for the small businesses. The cost/benefit is totally worth it if it's something you care about.
weston β˜•οΈ (81.0 shares)
Google and Yelp may benefit financially, but reviews are a public good.