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At 15, Yelp finally wants to get to know us better

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If there were a Hall of Fame for the internet’s most comfortably familiar offerings, Yelp would be a first-ballot inductee. The service, which is about to turn 15—it went live in October 2004—has long been synonymous with user reviews (100 million of them to date) and facts about restaurants and other local businesses, with a down-to-earth vibe and aesthetic that have remained remarkably consistent over the years. Even its logo is just a cleaned-up version of the one it adopted early on. The experience it delivers is the digital equivalent of a favorite pair of shoes.

But in a way, it’s been a pair of shoes that only came in one size. Everybody perusing businesses in the same area has gotten the same search results and recommendations, as if people didn’t have wildly different preferences based on an array of factors. Now Yelp is introducing a significant new twist to the way it helps match up consumers and businesses. The app will let you specify dozens of things about yourself—from a love of BBQ to a desire for gender-neutral restrooms—and will take these items into account.

Jeremy Stoppelman [Photo: courtesy of Yelp]This is less of a head-snapping breakthrough than a response to shortcomings identified by Yelp fans. “One of the things that we’ve heard time and time again is, ‘Hey, I’m a vegetarian’ or ‘Hey, I’m a parent’ or ‘Hey, I have a dog,'” says Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s cofounder and CEO. “All these personal aspects weren’t necessarily being captured and then taken into account in search results.”

Though it took Yelp a while to get around to building these new features, the company hasn’t exactly been lounging about. For all the ways in which the service has stayed recognizably itself, it’s also been building out functionality that helps consumers do much more than identify a tasty-yet-affordable sushi joint and verify that it’s open. Today’s Yelp will also let you get on the wait list for that restaurant before you’ve left home. And make appointments with businesses such as skincare clinics. And request quotes from specialists like tree-removal services.

These offerings are catching on. For instance, 2.4 million users a month make restaurant reservations or wait list requests, while 2.2 million request quotes for services. Still, the service’s reputation hasn’t quite caught up with the fleshed-out new reality. “Many people out there think of Yelp as, ‘Oh, that’s the place that you got restaurant reviews and ratings,'” says chief product officer Vivek Patel, a 10-year veteran of the company. “And it’s true, you can find really trustworthy reviews and ratings. But we’re trying to evolve from that to being a place where you can also discover businesses, connect with those businesses, and even transact with those businesses.”

The new personalization features fall into the “discovery” segment of that journey, which remains critical—after all, people are far more likely to contact or do business with a restaurant, merchant, or service provider if it looks exactly like what they’re looking for.

“Throughout the years, if you were doing the same search in the same spot, you would get the same........

© Fast Company