The Non-Anonymous Mob

Alex Salkever, writing on DailyFinance, proposes a novel solution to the Yelp blackmail fuss that's swirling around the courts and the Web: take away the anonymity of Yelp users.

Commenters would have to register with a system like Facebook Connect or Google Friend Connect: "Doing so would ensure, to a great degree, that commenters use their real identities and could be held accountable for their comments."

Shakedown artists and disgruntled ex-employees would have a far more difficult time working the system to their advantage, users would have to stand behind their opinions, and the discourse as a whole on Yelp would shift toward the constructive and positive, Salkever suggests. He brushes off the possible reduced volume of posting and the potential rise of sugar-coated reviews, which are both serious potential consequences of forcing commenters to use their real identities.

Salkever's getting to one of the core dilemmas of the Web: How best to moderate online forums and comment sections. Moderate too heavily or require elaborate registration, and you risk constricting conversation to a standstill. Create Wild West conditions (total anonymity and unrestricted free speech) and you get threads that go from constructive to acid-laced discussions of Obama's birth certificate in about three posts. There's a viable middle ground somewhere, and it's in part up to the big user-driven food communities like Yelp and Chowhound to figure out where it lies, and what the laws should be.

Image source: Flickr member LeNs'PHoTOs' under Creative Commons