"As a business owner, being able to see deleted reviews still offers me no insight into how the algorithm actually works," she adds.
(Vince Sollitto, a Yelp spokesman, says his employer will never discuss the algorithm, because if businesses understood how it works, they'd "game the system.")
Finally, there's George Vanhoek, who owns Wag My Tail, a dog-grooming service in Tujunga. He says satisfied customers often mentioned the negative reviews that hovered at the top of his profile after he declined a $450-per-month Yelp membership.
"Whether a review is good or bad, it should stay up, period," he says. "That's the only fair way to do business."
Yelp, meanwhile, seems to be preparing for the worst. On March 31, the company sent a letter to a paid scout in the Midwest. The letter mentioned that reviewers are being accused of acting as "agent[s] of coercion" and that the scout should preserve materials related to 15 companies in California, New York, Seattle, D.C. and Chicago. (View a scanned version of the letter at miaminewtimes.com.) Yelp has also asked a Los Angeles federal judge to dismiss the case. A hearing is set for May 3 in L.A.
Restaurant owner Mehana hired Beck as his lawyer recently. But Mehana is unsure how much the courts can do to help him because his eatery, Captain Joe's Seafood and Pasta Grill, went out of business this past December.
"They affected my business very badly. People were afraid to come in and try us out," he says. "I lost all my investment. I took out money, a credit line. We have nothing now, nothing."