There's something I've said in passing in a couple of posts and comments recently—and in any number of offline conversations—that bears highlighting: I believe that Yelp is doing the kind of fundamental damage to newspapers' traditional local entertainment listing and reviewing role that craigslist did to classifieds.
I'm not the only one making this point. Paul Smalera made a great argument about Yelp's dominance in Slate's The Big Money recently, and Peter Krasilovsky raised the spectre of Yelp reaching critical mass as far back as November.
What's happening is that Yelp now has enough crowdsourced participants and reviews of enough businesses in enough markets to be a truly useful tool in trying to decide what to do for entertainment (and more). Combined with search and geo-location (Yelp's iPhone app is indispensable), Yelp is becoming a very powerful tool.
That's a big deal for newspapers, which long have touted their allegedly encyclopedic knowledge of the local scene, as well as their restaurant and entertainment reviewers. But why grapple with clumsy newspaper entertainment-guide and calendar interfaces, and take the word of a single, over-stretched reviewer, when you can quickly see what the crowd is saying on Yelp about the place you want to go? And as Yelp expands its reach beyond restaurants and entertainment locations into other local businesses, it's becoming even more valuable. Advertisers will be sure to follow.
The last really defensible franchise for newspapers is local news and information, and local entertainment, dining and business listings and guides are a critical part of that franchise—especially in the ways they can attract advertisers. But if Yelp is providing a better, easier to use mousetrap, just as craigslist did with classifieds, newspapers are going to lose big. Yet again.