Yelp: It's an odd name for great Charleston food and business info

The other day I had a few Charlestonians look at me inexplicably when I said how great Yelp is.

I returned an equally baffled look.

And so, I now feel it is my duty to help enlighten Charleston.

Yelp defines themselves as, "the fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what's great - and not so great, in your area."

If that's the simple explanation, the long one is that Yelp kicks butt because the business and restaurant reviews are written by people who visit the businesses as regular old customers, and Yelp offers a really great user interface.

Ingredients in the pudding

An ability to narrow by business services and pricing, and being able to draw a region of interest are some of Yelp's slicker features.In my expert opinion -- as someone who lives in Charleston -- the service has provided me with the best most interesting information.

On top of that I really like Yelp because they've developed a solid way to access the information from mobile devices, namely, my iPhone (lucky me, I know). The iPhone app does a good job at providing a list of nearby businesses of interest by category or search.

Of course the true test of these new social-powered services is just how comprehensive they are, especially when you get outside of the major cities. And Yelp generally fairs pretty well in lil' ol' Charleston. My field testing showed the service's entries to generally be current and comprehensive -- though 1-in-50 or so would place the map dot significantly off mark. Of course, that's the beauty of a user-powered service: you can fix it for yourself. Though the uncertainty generally prompts me to call to confirm.

But what about Directory X?

There are worthy local services that do similar things (listed below) and other online services. But what makes Yelp great is that local community-powered reviews is all they do, and so they can do a darn good job of it without getting sidetracked integrating other features not related to reviews.

The Charleston City Paper's food directory: A local index of restaurants and bars with links to related coverage and user reviews.
PalmettoBizBuzz: A local business directory with user reviews. Owned by the parent company of The Post and Courier.
Lowcountry Marketplace: A local business directory with a focus on video. Also owned by the parent company of The Post and Courier.
Chowhound and Urbanspoon: Local restaurants and information.
Google Maps: Good user reviews embedded in the business info, but this is firstly a mapping service.

Not perfect, but a winner

While Yelp is far from perfect and a for-profit company that relies on free user content, they are -- in my not-so humble opinion -- your best bet for getting solid local information, and ensuring that info is fair and accurate.

If Yelp isn't quite your cup of tea, I'd urge you to use any user-powered review service that is free to access. The more of us that contribute and rely on user reviews the better information we can all get and the better businesses will have to treat the lowly consumer. -- If you're a Twitter user you can make your thoughts be heard by including "#chsbiz" or "#chseats" in your tweet.

Here's a direct link to Yelp's info about Charleston -- we've also put together a more Digitel like experience of Yelp, to get your feet wet.