By Jim Stokes
Contributing Editor, Sound & Communications Magazine
Yelp is a website and mobile app that connects people with local businesses. The company’s trendy new 150,000-square-foot office environment in the Flatiron District across from Madison Square Park features a Manhattan skyline view. The salesforce drives profits upward in this lighthearted, tech-heavy environment (see sidebar, “Casual Collaboration”). Thus, staff work in collaborative spaces designed to stimulate creativity and conversation.
‘Word Of Mouth’
Founded in 2004, Yelp has taken root in countries across the globe, making it the leading local guide for word of mouth on everything from boutiques and mechanics to restaurants and dentists. The site has an emphasis on dining and nightlife. The Yelp community is comprised of locals who connect online and off to share their opinions about local businesses. In 2008, Yelp expanded from its corporate headquarters in San Francisco to the east coast by opening a New York City office. A Canadian version of the site was also launched that same year. And in 2009, Yelp expanded to the UK market and later to France, Spain and Austria. In 2012, the company went public and also acquired one of its main competitors, Qype. Yelp currently provides reviews in 32 countries. The company had a monthly average of 89 million visitors who visited the site via their mobile devices in the third business quarter of 2015.
Our interviewees are Joseph Fusaro, CTS, Vice President Senior Sales Executive, and JoAnn Arcenal, Director of Public Engagement, from designer/integrator McCann Systems based in Edison, NJ (www.mccannsystems.com). Mike Tober, IT Site Support Technician of Yelp’s New York office (www.yelp.com), gives the client AV perspective. Fusaro collaborated closely with his design team to engineer the new work space. Alan Kipnis was Project Manager.
“McCann did a project for Yelp in the past for a couple of floors in its previous New York City building,” said Fusaro. “Yelp’s standards come out of its headquarters in San Francisco. The initial concept started in September 2014, and we completed engineer drawings in the middle of November. From the beginning of cable pull to the completion of commissioning, it was three months.”
Several Dozen Collaborative Spaces
In the new install, the integrator provided AV for several dozen collaborative spaces, including huddle, conference and videoconferencing rooms within the 14th and 16th floors. A number of displays, codecs and amplifiers, brought over from a previous site, were combined with new equipment. Each collaboration area is controlled independently via a Crestron seven-inch TSW-750 tabletop touchscreen. The user interface is identical across each space for seamless setup and ease of use, even for last-minute meetings. Room schedulers are essential in this fast-paced environment to avoid overbooking. The custom program is integrated with the company’s email and calendar software so reservations can be made quickly from each user’s workstation or at each site’s doorway-mounted Apple iPad mini.
Challenges & Solutions
Fusaro explained in detail challenges and solutions in the Yelp AV project. “A challenging component was the distributed video and audio system across two floors,” he said. McCann provided a system to distribute content to displays and speaker zones across both. “Due to the size of the floors, we couldn’t centralize the system. We have equipment spread among four IDF closets. All IDF closets are interconnected with OM3 fiber for both audio and video distribution.” In order to provide flexibility and future expansion of content distribution to
the displays, McCann used Crestron DM routers. This will allow for growth in distributing more sources and updating to 4K. “Due to some necessary equipment choices, we designed and installed a CobraNet audio network,” said Fusaro. “In the future, the infrastructure can be used for upgrading to an AVB or Dante network for audio networking needs.
“The biggest challenge came with integrating the Large Training Room with the content distribution system (CDS). Yelp has a monthly ‘All Hands’ meeting that requires more seating than the LTR can provide. We added a connection to the CDS and a simple means of turning this feature on and off for the Yelp IT team. Currently, the ‘All Hands’ meeting is broadcast beyond the LTR to other Sharp displays and the adjacent speaker zones beyond the retracting walls of the LTR. As Yelp’s ranks grow and attendance increases, it will require a simple update to expand across the entire CDS, one section at a time, as necessary.”
Another challenge was handling the installation while other construction was going on in the building. Equipment and crews had to be moved between floors. “The limitation of freight elevators became a factor because other construction crews were using the same bank of elevators,” said Fusaro.
Yelp’s Mike Tober is part of a team of four people in the new office. Regarding installation challenges, there was the yeomen’s task of moving equipment from the old location at 100 Fifth Avenue to 11 Madison Avenue. One floor wasn’t even ready when they moved into the new location.
“We had to do it in two phases,” he said. “Working all that out and trying to get the AV up and running in both sites was a big challenge. That was back in January 2015 when we moved out of there. Basically, you have your users leaving the [Fifth Avenue] office on Friday and coming to a new destination on Monday. You have to figure out how many conference rooms are needed here and how many conference rooms are still required to get by in the old space. Then you still have to bring over the new equipment. Some speakers had to be brought down because we have music throughout both floors.” There are separate zones for the 14th and 16th floors, with volume controls so staffers can turn the music down or off, as appropriate.
Most rooms have Sharp dual HD display monitors on Chief mounts, so participants can share content and view video feeds. Display screen size varies depending on room size and application. As mentioned, some rooms are Crestron touchscreen controlled.