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Inside the Business of Online Reviews For Hire

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the these-hose-clamps-saved-my-life-and-my-marriage dept.

Advertising 121

Rick Zeman writes "Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth. They purport to be testimonials of real people, even though some are bought and sold just like everything else on the commercial Internet. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service. The New York Times tells of the rise and fall of the founder of one such hired third party service who had has been so successful planting paid fake reviews that he no longer trusts any online review. He should know. Because of him and his kind, it's estimated that one third of online reviews are fake."

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121 comments

how true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41129897)

I wonder if this includes www.oracle.com ?

Re:how true. (2)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 2 years ago | (#41129915)

Oracle only has a "good" rep with PHBs. And even then, it's because your average PHB just repeats things they read in magazines (not online... the internet is a scary place).

Review for hire (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#41132827)

Review for hire is far from being a new phenomenon

I can't remember how many times I had fallen victim to that scam, often ended up purchasing crappy software that did nothing close to the raving reviews I had read in computer magazines

Re:how true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41133457)

Oracle only has a "good" rep with PHBs. And even then, it's because your average PHB just repeats things they read in magazines (not online... the internet is a scary place).

The only time Oracle has a "good" rep is when someone is selling it.

Every moment after that is pretty much filled with "what the fuck did I do to deserve this?", as most who have had to deal with that fuckware can attest.

(software + bloatware + patchware + malware + FUBAR = fuckware)

C'mon people! What's the matter with you? (5, Insightful)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41129923)

Give us a link that doesn't require registration.. aieet?

Re:C'mon people! What's the matter with you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130725)

Aren't lies and misrepresentation an essential part of corporate (or any business for that matter) free speech? That's how many act.

Whether it be book reviews, misleading ads or press releases on tv, fake interviewers at news conferences, or shill postings/moderation in forums, doesn't it all really boil down to the same thing?

Re:C'mon people! What's the matter with you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130929)

How is your post a reply to the post above? Are you an idiot?

Re:C'mon people! What's the matter with you? (2)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 2 years ago | (#41130787)

Give us a link that doesn't require registration.. aieet?

FWIW, It worked for me.

I get past most of these semi-porous paywalls with a combo of firefox add-ons:

RefControl (for most it is sufficient to set the referrer to http://google.com/ [google.com] )
CS Lite (block all cookies from the paywalled site)

I also have noscript, Ghostery, RequestPolicy and RedirectRemover installed but they usually aren't necessary to get past the paywall.

Re:C'mon people! What's the matter with you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41131287)

Bugmenot is your friend.

Kind of inconvenient (4, Informative)

Glarimore (1795666) | about 2 years ago | (#41129925)

When the only article in the story is requires a login. Next, please.

Re:Kind of inconvenient (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130015)

NYTimes.com doesn't require a login. I'm reading the article without one right now.

Re:Kind of inconvenient (2)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 2 years ago | (#41130535)

a few reasons you may not be seeing a login

1 you have a SAVED login

2 you are connected via a portal that has a site login

3 you installed a plugin that bypasses the NYC login (by providing a login)

Re:Kind of inconvenient (4, Informative)

Curupira (1899458) | about 2 years ago | (#41130101)

Try this link [nytimes.com] instead. I think the submitter forgot to strip the URL junk...

Re:Kind of inconvenient (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130121)

"When the only article in the story IS requires a login."

Huh?

Bill Hicks would have something to say... (1)

gale the simple (1931540) | about 2 years ago | (#41129933)

about the marketing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo&noredirect=1 [youtube.com]

"You are satan's spawn. Just kill yourself"

Re:Bill Hicks would have something to say... (-1, Flamebait)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 2 years ago | (#41129955)

After watching this moronic video, I'm glad Bill Hicks apparently got cancer and died.

Re:Bill Hicks would have something to say... (1)

gale the simple (1931540) | about 2 years ago | (#41130033)

Lol. I will paraphrase Tony Blair who on some occasions got some things right:

There are people whose light does not dissapear.

Bill Hicks lives on because he saw things a lot more clearer than an obvious troll.:>

Re:Bill Hicks would have something to say... (0)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 2 years ago | (#41130319)

He's like an unfunny, uninsightful knock off of George Carlin.

Re:Bill Hicks would have something to say... (1)

gale the simple (1931540) | about 2 years ago | (#41131987)

Huh?:> They were both essentially saying the same things; not to mention, they had similar style.

Re:Bill Hicks would have something to say... (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#41134327)

So basically he was like George Carlin after he stopped telling jokes about growing up catholic?

Re:Bill Hicks would have something to say... (1)

Penurious Penguin (2687307) | about 2 years ago | (#41130105)

Bill Hicks inspired me deeply. I miss him and can think of no better angry poet. Excellent stuff.

And to the louts expressing satisfaction at his death, Bill Hicks forgives you. Now fuck off!

Re:Bill Hicks would have something to say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130435)

Some of his stuff was insightful and sometimes funny - the whole cigarette warning label joke was really funny.

Other times, he was scary-rageful-I-don't-know-WTF-his-point-is like that whole John Davidson is the spawn of Satan thing. I watch him on youtube and I keep wondering when he's going to take out a machine gun and shoot the audience - and yes, I know he's dead.

Only 1/3? (4, Funny)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about 2 years ago | (#41129935)

You only learn from reviews what something can't do, not what it can. I usually only look at negative reviews myself, and possibly fact-check against positive reviews. A product has to be truly great to garner all positive reviews. ...like Sonos-- check them out at Sonos.com, or buy at your local Target store! It changed my life! ;-)

Negative reviews (3, Funny)

Kohath (38547) | about 2 years ago | (#41130111)

Mine was damaged in shipping. One star.

Re:Negative reviews (2, Funny)

Zocalo (252965) | about 2 years ago | (#41130287)

Music system turned out to be a bobcat [xkcd.com] . Would not buy again.

On the otherhand, it is easier on the ears than most of the latest chart music...

Re:Negative reviews (2)

nbauman (624611) | about 2 years ago | (#41130563)

http://xkcd.com/937/ [xkcd.com] TornadoGuard worked well, except for warning about tornados.

Re:Only 1/3? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130143)

...brought to you by Carl's Jr.®

Re:Only 1/3? (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 2 years ago | (#41130283)

Fuck you, I'm eating!

Re:Only 1/3? (1)

swillden (191260) | about 2 years ago | (#41130951)

You only learn from reviews what something can't do, not what it can. I usually only look at negative reviews myself, and possibly fact-check against positive reviews.

I find value in both positive and negative reviews, but I think the key is to go in looking for facts, not testimonials. "This product is great!" isn't useful at all, and my eyes just skip right over it. Specific unexpected problems or benefits are helpful, as are detailed comparisons with competing products. Average ratings are also helpful, but only to quickly narrow the candidate list, and only if there are enough reviews.

I do have some hope for Google's integration of Google+ with their review systems (local and shopper). I've had a few experiences now of looking up restaurants and finding reviews written by people I know... and that is tremendously helpful. If I know the person well I can filter their comments through my knowledge of their biases. If I don't know them well, at least I know they're a real person.

This means very little to me (3)

Trevin (570491) | about 2 years ago | (#41129937)

I've seldom trusted consumer reviews, not because they might be fake, but because "consumers" often lack enough experience with large enough numbers of competing products for their opinions to hold any weight. When I'm looking for reviews of a product, I want professional reviews from journalists who are dedicated to researching the genre.

Re:This means very little to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130017)

Mostly these "professional" reviews are also paid for. They just pay these "professional" people more, so the review is put together better. The only legitimate reviews are done by various websites that don't sell stuff and don't much money on ads.

Almost every big site censors their reviews as well. I've had a number of reviews of vitamin/supplement products censored, likely because I point out certain ingredients are from China or result in the production of cyanide in the body, that sort of thing.

Essentially one is left only with "caveat emptor". Just as in ancient times, one must assume everything the merchant tells you is a lie and rely only on what you can physically verify yourself.

Re:This means very little to me (1)

mlts (1038732) | about 2 years ago | (#41130135)

I'd like both: Professional reviews from people who are experts, as well as people who may or may not know what the heck they are doing.

Here is the problem: You force better real-life identification on a site, a shill company still can get around it.

There is only one real way to get "honest" reviews, and that is to use the time-tested PGP concept of the web of trust:

Have a site that allows you to post a review. Friends will see the review, and depending on how much credibility they give you, it will either show up, show up with a caveat that the person may or may not be honest, or just not show up unless explicitly clicked. Said site would also have a checkbox so someone can be honest and write if they got anything back for the review. This doesn't mean the review is bad; it just means it was not completely independent.

Re:This means very little to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130773)

This kinda works in some of my hobby sites for reviews by fellow hobbiests: Astromart and Cloudynights for astronomy. Audioasylum for audio. Astronomy is a small enough community you can get to know people. You also get a feel for something that isn't right.

Audioasylum has the opposite problem, disrespect is rampant (and has turned the forums on Astromart into a ghost town). There is too much negative reviewing.

But, moving to something like cars the "community based review' is weak.

Re:This means very little to me (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130357)

"Professional" reviews are often bought too. For example, magazines reviewing products only if the manufacturer buys ad space. Since the publication doesn't want to risk their income (ads is where the money is, not sales) the reviews will always be overwhelmingly positive, and any negative aspects will be ignored or downplayed. The reviewer may also receive personal kickbacks eg. by being allowed to keep (and resell) the product.

@Trevin - Re:This means very little to me (3, Informative)

nukenerd (172703) | about 2 years ago | (#41131157)

You have to learn to weigh up and read between the lines of both amateur and professional reviews.

For example, just an example, Ryobi garden machinery is crap, as I know from experience. Look up reviews eg here :-

www.reviewcentre.com

... (where I have written both good and bad reviews myself without censorship) and you will find lots of people saying Ryobi stuff is crap, but there is also a minority who say it is great. I have no doubt there is variation in people's experience (sometimes I have been the only person defending something myself) but clearly the balance is bad in such a case. But the ones saying crap often go into some detail as to why it is crap (or why it is good), and when they do that it starts to sound genuine.

One issue raised about Ryobi is that you cannot easily get spares (in UK anyway - and Ryobi stuff sure needs spares). This is something that you might not think about when you buy (I thought it was a legal requirement for certain classes of goods), but having been warned by the reviews you can check out the point for yourself - try ordering a spare part from the place that is selling the whole items. And by "spares" I don't mean gloves and goggles (as the salesman will), I mean things like ignition coils and drive shafts. My point is that reviews can make you aware of aspects you may overlook, that you can then check for yourself if you don't believe it.

OTOH I read a customer review raving about something along the lines : "It's great! just as I expected! I am delighted with my new gizmo. It does everything I wanted it to. I can't wait to try it out for the first time !" Idiot.

this is what died with internet mass popularity (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41129947)

Back in the 1980's, if you read a review on the internet (usenet at the time, there was no web yet), you could be sure it was from a "real person", and was a real opinion, not a paid shill or something written by a marketer. You could be sure the resulting discussion was being engaged in by real people as well.

That culture has been lost from the entire internet, and it is increasingly hard to sort out what's real from what's not. Some of them are obvious, but the better shills are increasingly sophisticated. This is one of the many prices paid for the eternal september. It was overrun by the marketeers and the ad men, who ruined the commons for the rest of us.

Captcha: throngs

Re:this is what died with internet mass popularity (2)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 2 years ago | (#41130321)

Mod up. Innocence lost. The start of the internet, like the hippie days, was full of promise. Then they commercialized it, and that was the end of the 'free' internet, now everywhere you click you need a credit card number. Now you have to be suspicious of every email you recieve, malware may be lurking in a pixel, for chrissakes! "Free" games require "In App Purchases". Look out for fake reviews, trolls on slashdot! I'm going back to sleep, somebody wake me when it's 1985 again...

Five Stars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41129961)

This product and or service does exactly what is says it will do and is the best product ever. I have brought many similar {product x}s from here and this one actually works/is the best.

AAA+

Re:Five Stars (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | about 2 years ago | (#41130065)

Slashdot does exactly what is says it will do and is the best website ever. I have used many similar websites on the internet and this one actually is the best.

AAA+

Yep, you're right - it works!

Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck them (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41129967)

Does Consumer Reports still have a good reputation? If so, problem solved

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (4, Informative)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | about 2 years ago | (#41130055)

Does Consumer Reports still have a good reputation? If so, problem solved

Except they miss a lot of products. I used them for a time, and found that unless I was buying a car or a major appliance it wasn't all that useful.

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41130127)

Yeah, this seems to be about book reviews. If enough people submitted reviews, there's bound to be some negative ones. Just read those, and ignore the five star ones. For better accuracy, do like any other statistician, and throw out the highest and lowest scores.

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41131391)

If enough people submitted reviews, there's bound to be some negative ones. Just read those, and ignore the five star ones.

What about the 1-star reviews from competitors? I don't know if it happens often in books, but there are other categories where it's pretty obvious.

For the weirdest example of this happening, look at the reviews of sleeping masks on Amazon. Lots of horseshit 5-star and 1-star ratings on every single one of them. Apparently it's a super-competitive niche.

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41130057)

Finally got through.. Ah "customer" reviews. Good entertainment value at least.

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41130191)

Does Consumer Reports still have a good reputation? If so, problem solved

Only partially. To the best of my knowledge, Consumer Reports is still well regarded in terms of freedom from vendor capture, editorial independence, and similar virtues; but it's carefully cultivated area of expertise (necessarily) moves rather slowly and covers limited ground.

Cars, consumer durables, that sort of thing, no problem. Books, music, games, movies, and similar cultural ephemera? Less useful. Consumer electronics not so well known that David Pogue might have heard of them? Less useful. Reputability of the various obscure online retailers who are quite attractive in terms of their ability to cut out the middle man, or at least replace him with a cheaper middleman(Well, let's see, I could go to Best Buy and pay Belkin to slap their sticker on a KVM switch manufactured by Guangdong Light Industries, or I could pay some dude in Hong Kong a third as much to drop-ship me the same damn thing, albeit without a brand sticker and an incomprehensible manual, hard choice...), also not an area of strength.

Even if Consumer Reports brings the consumer electronics tech side of their review mechanism fully to parity with their traditional areas, their scope is inevitably going to be limited compared to the vast volume of stuff out there.

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 2 years ago | (#41130827)

Does Consumer Reports still have a good reputation? If so, problem solved

Sort of. Their website is littered with the same privacy-invading trackers as most other sites. As far as I am concerned that's a major no-no for an organization that claims to be on the consumer's side and that's enough for me to not renew my yearly subscription. But I have not yet heard of a case where that same attitude has poisoned anything else there ... yet.

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about 2 years ago | (#41131627)

Privacy invading trackers? You mean the ones they use to know if they have any traffic and if so is it getting where it wants to go on the site?

Analytics software is used to quantify behavior so the people building and operating the site can make decisions. Nobody cares about you as an individual in this regard. You are just part of an aggregate segment of traffic.

Re:Can't read article..I will NOT register! Fuck t (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 2 years ago | (#41131993)

Privacy invading trackers? You mean the ones they use to know if they have any traffic and if so is it getting where it wants to go on the site?

If they weren't happy to hand that data off to 3rd parties by using 3rd party trackers then you would have point.

Nobody cares about you as an individual in this regard.

The key here is "in that regard" -- once that data is collected, especially once it is collected by companies that collect it from thousands of other websites, it can and will eventually be repurposed for other uses.

A former skeptic (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130011)

I also used to be skeptical about online reviews, especially when I saw MyCleanPC.com had so very many great online reviews. But then I tried out MyCleanPC, and I saw the truth for myself! The truth being, of course, that all online reviews are fake.

Alternate Link (2, Informative)

Penurious Penguin (2687307) | about 2 years ago | (#41130035)

Re:Alternate Link (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130087)

Most informative comment ever.

This Is A Great Article! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130083)

This article is extremely insightful and very well written in a clear and concise format. It helped me and my family greatly and we are thrilled that we took the time to register with NYT. The article was so good that I have gone so far as to take out a one year paid subscription to the online version of the NYT.

I really can't stress it enough. If you do not read this article, you are losing out. I would read this article again.

Bill Needledick
Westbury, MN

Re:This Is A Great Article! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41131019)

How much did NYT pay you for this great endorsement? ;)

That's why comparative charts are good (1)

Milharis (2523940) | about 2 years ago | (#41130091)

When you've got a website that use comparative charts of all the products they have reviewed, you can have some trust in their value.
That doesn't mean they there are no review that were paid for, or that no bad side of a product were purposely omitted, but at least that way they can't fake every performance, because they still have to compare them against each other.

Apart from that, I guess it's best to stick to the website(s) you know you can (more or less) trust, and to always triple check, or more, with user reviews and other websites.

Re:That's why comparative charts are good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41131315)

Comparative charts of books? What categories would they compete in -- weight? word length? vocabulary size?

Reviews, forum comments, etc. (3, Interesting)

jbernardo (1014507) | about 2 years ago | (#41130107)

It has long been known that many companies hire "armies" of reviewers and commentators to promote their product and hide any negative information under a ton of PR releases. Waggener Edstrom and a few others advertise their purpose and MO.

In the beginning, it was easy to pinpoint shills and marketeers; the word astroturf entered the English language after one of the first of such campaigns was identified. Now, they have become smarter; they use several accounts, with some doing "normal" comments and reviews to be seen as reliable and to be able to vote the more strident accounts up. These last accounts are either just spewing the PR garbage directly, and get created and abandoned very quickly, or they create a "personality", almost always biased towards a single company or product, but always somewhat discrete, trying to appear as genuine fans, upbeat about a product. These are harder to identify, as sometimes a blind fan might not be different from one of these shills; but usually blind fans don't get up voted as quickly as these are by the other company accounts.

Slashdot has been resisting these tactics, but they are pervasive, and there is money in this kind of trolling, so it is always a difficult battle...

Re:Reviews, forum comments, etc. (1)

mrstrano (1381875) | about 2 years ago | (#41130351)

I read negative reviews as well as positive and try to weight in the fact that negative reviews are less likely to be fake. However, if most did like I do, PR companies would switch their tactic to post negative reviews about competing products. It's a very hard problem to solve.

Re:Reviews, forum comments, etc. (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41130381)

..the word astroturf entered the English language after one of the first of such campaigns was identified.

I believe the word astroturf entered the English language when they built the Astrodome in Houston.

Re:Reviews, forum comments, etc. (2)

jbernardo (1014507) | about 2 years ago | (#41131333)

I believe the word astroturf entered the English language when they built the Astrodome in Houston.

Completely right. I meant the verb astroturfing, but obviously that wasn't what I wrote... :)

unlike our investigative news stories (1)

deodiaus2 (980169) | about 2 years ago | (#41130123)

Which are always written by news reporter who rely heavily on ad revenue for income.

Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (0, Offtopic)

wisebabo (638845) | about 2 years ago | (#41130125)

Well here's something that those tea-partiers and libertarians don't want to hear.

The "R" word. REGULATION

Unless you want to live in Somalia, you should realize that there IS an important role for government beyond just self-defense and essential services (like police, fire, waste management). MARKETS need to be REGULATED, with binding rules and penalties for the offenders.

Don't take it from me, just read up on Adam Smith who called it "The Tragedy of the Commons". (If you don't know who he is, may I suggest you take a basic class in Economics? Hint: he's not a friend of Karl Max).

Of course Mr. Smith was writing about a simpler time in the18th century; the "commons" he was referring to was that used by grazing cows. So in our MUCH more compex world, it stands to reason that we need a MUCH more sophisticated regulatory system to prevent people like Enron (remember them?) and more recently, investment banks and rating agencies (paid by the people they rate!) from gaming the system. In addition, since more of our commerce is going on-line (yay for shopping in our bathrobes!) regulation needs to follow.

Unfortunately Romney and crew (who benefit the most from the lack of regulation) are going to try to convince you otherwise. For example they really don't want to restrict the ability of billionaires to dominate elections with their money (alright I guess if you're a billionaire, I'm not. Welcome to the 1920s, age of the robber barons). Also, as slashdotters well know, they really don't want to cut down on a corporation's right to regulate Internet traffic (bye bye net neutrality).

I'd tell you how much he's personally benefitted but he doesn't seem to be disposed to releasing his financial records. Still that hasn't kept some forensic analysis of what he has released from turning up some interesting things:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/25/business/in-romneys-tax-return-clues-in-foreign-taxes.html?ref=politics [nytimes.com]

Re:Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (1)

Kohath (38547) | about 2 years ago | (#41130163)

AKA: Online review police. Because all of life's problems can be solved with more police.

Re:Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (2)

wisebabo (638845) | about 2 years ago | (#41130345)

Imagine reviews that you actually COULD trust.

How much would that be worth to you? Especially for a big ticket item (like a computer or car). Not to mention the hassle of looking for the item, comparing it against the alternatives, and (for physical items) going to the store or arranging shipping and delivery. True, for small items (candy? Cheap e-books?) it may not be worth it but you get the picture.

There already ARE "review police". It's called truth in advertising laws and especially for medical claims they are damned important (no more "quack" cures).

I live as an ex-pat in Vietnam where there is very little of this sort of policing going on and so I must buy all my drinking water and NEVER eat "street" food like the locals. Not with a 70%(!) infection rate of parasitic worms from improperly washed/prepared food (the locals take a pill every 6 months to kill them off).

There was a Nobel prize in Economics given (I forget which year) to an economist who realized that, unlike classical market theory, that INFORMATION WASN'T FREE and managed to put it into the equations. So yes, getting good information isn't free and in all cases it won't be worth it. But in many cases it will be and that will need regulations.

Re:Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (1)

Kohath (38547) | about 2 years ago | (#41130543)

Imagine any policing regime for anything that worked perfectly, solved the problem, and didn't create any new problems. Then wake up. We have a real world. Out here, when you're not lost in your imagination, the police can be as big a problem as the thing they're trying to prevent.

Re:Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (1)

wisebabo (638845) | about 2 years ago | (#41130691)

I'm trying hard (seriously) to think of any over-regulated markets that caused significantly more costs than benefits. Do you have any examples?

On the other hand, the recent financial crash, plunging most of the world into a "Great Recession" with tens of trillions of dollars of lost output and probably hundreds of millions of people (worldwide) being thrown out of work is a pretty good example of what lax regulation in a number of sectors (banking, real estate) can do. Are you sure you're not letting your ideology get in the way of the facts?

All I'm saying is in the choice between Somalia and Norway (okay Singapore) I know which way I'd prefer to err on.

Re:Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130749)

Go look deeper into the causes of the financial crash. There will be another much worse than the first now that the TBTF hypothesis has been thoroughly proven.

Re:Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (1)

Kohath (38547) | about 2 years ago | (#41132063)

On the other hand, the recent financial crash...

Which would have certainly been prevented if... what? Specifically. Give us the name or job title of the person. Give us the specific crime he committed (assuming you could retroactively go back in time and make some specific action a crime). Tell us specifically how that crime would have been detected and prevented by some financial crash police. And tell us how that action led to the financial crash.

Or is this still a fantasy world, where we say "we like regulations" and that makes bad things stop happening?

Meanwhile, the real world's Jon Corzine took $1 Billion from MF Global investors' accounts, contrary to specific regulations that everyone in finance understands, and he won't be prosecuted because he's a big Obama crony and fundraiser.

Re:Uh oh, it's time for The "R" word (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130697)

I am confident that the people running the government know what they are doing and are looking out for my best interest. That is why I try to buy as much as possible directly from them.

And no, it wasn't a testimonial saying this (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#41130129)

You can show someone a pile of reproducable scientific papers a mile high, and show him a couple of testimonials, and the human mind wants to believe the latter every time.

Re:And no, it wasn't a testimonial saying this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130717)

I doubt that many reproducible papers actually exist.

My heart *bleeds* for him... (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41130133)

Mr. Todd Jason Rutherford went into the business of poisoning the well, making the internet a worse and less reliable place, and now he just can't trust online reviews... Poor fellow, a dear innocent lamb in a cruel world.

Seriously, fuck this guy and the horse he rode in on. He poisoned the well, let him drink deeply. The only unfortunate part of his sordid story is that he helped impose the same lowered quality on the rest of us. Ah well, at least his business collapsed, ironically thanks to a bad review...

Re:My heart *bleeds* for him... (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#41130317)

Over time the value of a free thing approaches zero.

Re:My heart *bleeds* for him... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41131123)

And, in the long run, everybody dies.

This neither stops the thing from having some value in the interim, nor blunts the condemnation of those who choose to hasten this process for everyone....

Re:My heart *bleeds* for him... (1)

superwiz (655733) | about 2 years ago | (#41132257)

And, in the long run, everybody dies.

But not everything does. There are things of lasting value. They usually appreciate in price with time.

Re:My heart *bleeds* for him... (1)

alen (225700) | about 2 years ago | (#41130677)

nope, even the legit online reviews are dumb. ever read the ones on newegg?

But Ayn Rand!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130955)

But Ayn Rand, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan would all approve of this! How can you not say it is wonderful???

Web of trust (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130159)

We shourd probably start using something like a web of trust for online reviews and ratings.

Chinese sites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130175)

It's great to see the different reviews on chinese sites like dinodirect and ahappydeal. Start looking at the reviews and you get the impression they hired someone to make a few english reviews and then copy-pasta throughout the entire category.

You come across a lot that are just plain wrong, with the paster obviously not english speaking. Cameras with reviews about how it works as promised "it's a great replacement for your original charger" and so forth.

Bloggers are contacted constantly (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130181)

Bloggers are contacted constantly to write reviews.

I've been blogging since the 1990s. A few times a year, I'll write an article about some software and a few months later someone with a competing product will contact me asking me to review their software. Most of the time, they are pushing an open-core system and I reviewed a 100% F/LOSS package.

There has never been any suggestion that I do more than an honest review, but they have offered to help get the system up and working should I run into any issues.

I've never done any of those _requested_ reviews. It doesn't interest me and I don't blog for profit. I blog as a way to
a) help others
b) help me remember key steps

Based on my online searches, it appears that commercial video codec transcoders are the worst at this. They build hundreds of websites around a single stolen transcoder with slightly different GUIs - usually just to make ffmpeg have a GUI on Windows or OSX. Crazy.

Any of the mpg2avi, mpg2h264, mpgtomp4, ipad/ipod-video-converter and hundreds of similar tools are just like that - stolen code they try to repackage for $19.99 with a GUI. I've never seen a valid review for these online.

BTW, use the FLOSS tool handbrake for these converstions. If you need an output format that handbrake doesn't support, use ffmpeg or avconv directly. Those really are easy-to-use tools.

2-4 stars (2)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#41130183)

As this indicates [xkcd.com] , I look for medium length reviews that are 2-4 stars. I assume that 1 and 5 star reviews are put up by interested agents or parties, or people who are just angry.

I look at it this way. How many people really have time to write long reviews for products they use. I am rather a verbose writer, and have put up some reviews, but they have been concise. Second, how many people are absolutely satisfied with a product. Those that are are of no use to the rest of us. Like my opinion of a retail store, I am more interested in the exceptions rather than how it deal with expected input. How does the store deal with returns and haggling over price. How does the vacuum deal with ninja lego pieces. Does the pretty metal computer get easily dented. Does the story get lame in the middle.

In all honesty the reason these commissioned reviews work is because there is a lot of crap out there that is basically the same, and all we really want is validation of the choice to buy one piece of crap over another. It is why movies are now made or broken in the first weekend due to social media. No one want to go to a movie that has been lambasted on facebook. It just is not cool.

Re:2-4 stars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130291)

Second, how many people are absolutely satisfied with a product.

I, for once, am totally, absolutely satisfied with my Korean monitor but I left a 80caaracters review ...!

Re:2-4 stars (4, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#41130591)

I look for medium length reviews that are 2-4 stars.

You are naive if you think these are not fake. This is a standard fake review strategy: As soon as a product is available put up three reviews: 5, 5 and 4. This gives an average of 4.7, which works better than a perfect 5.0. After a few more days, put up a few more 5s, another 4, and a 2. The 2 says something like this: "This looks like a great product, but it didn't work for me because I needed compatibility with CP/M v0.8 (or some other problem that applies to absolutely nobody). But they refunded my money with no hassle at all, so I would be very happy to buy some of their other products such as (link) or (link)."

Marketers are well aware that people tend to discount perfect reviews, and tend to read the low reviews more carefully. So they adjust their marketing accordingly.

Re:2-4 stars (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 2 years ago | (#41133341)

And don't forget that astroturfing isn't just about making yourself look good, it's also about astrotrashing your competition. Alternatively you can run a really really poor and obvious astroturfing, making it look like not only is the company so desperate about their product quality they need to resort to astroturfing, they're also horribly inept at it. Ultimately it comes down to actually reading review and thinking "Does it sound like the author has an ax to grind or is trying to sugarcoat it?", usually there's some that seem more genuine than others.

Subject (-1, Offtopic)

blogagog (1223986) | about 2 years ago | (#41130211)

Nothing to say. I'm having trouble posting here. This is just a test. Sorry to bug you. Have a great day!

Consequence of buying online (1)

DogDude (805747) | about 2 years ago | (#41130263)

This is an inevitable result of buying stuff online. If I want to know if a book is any good, I'll ask the people in my local bookstore, or at my library. That's right. I'll talk, face to face, with actual, living human beings about.. and get this... actual, physical books.

So trust only negative reviews... (1)

turkeyfeathers (843622) | about 2 years ago | (#41130271)

When I'm reading reviews on Amazon, etc., I only look at the one-star and two-star reviews to see what buyers do not like about the product. You can tell pretty easily what's a real gripe ("Slashdot has too many Packt Publishing reviews") and what's a paid shill from a competitor ("Slashdot has too many Packt Publishing reviews, I only read those really excellent books from O'Reilly").

Re:So trust only negative reviews... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41131885)

Online reviews from (ostensibly) regular folks are always a crapshoot. You can't go by the ratings, you have to read between the lines... some are shills, some are competitors, some are whiners who complain about anything that isn't 100 percent geared towards their individual needs, etc.

The ones I like the best tend to be the multi-paragraph reviews that have "PROS" and "CONS" sections, where each contains thoughtful and substantial points, and not just "doesn't cover advanced topics Y and Z which nobody would've expected to be covered in a book with this title anyway".

Crowdsourcing FAIL - crowds can be sourced. (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#41130295)

The trouble with crowdsourcing is that crowds can be sourced. I've been pointing this out for several years now. My "Social is bad for search, and search is bad for social" [sitetruth.com] paper covers this. Some review spam is remarkably inept. My favorite, in the paper, is a set of three restaurant reviews that were clearly scraped from reviews of a car wash. Carpet cleaning reviews on Yelp tend to be amusing. The same phrases reappear in many reviews. Many reviews mention a company different than the one being reviewed. We know, of course, that over 80 million Facebook accounts are fake. [cnn.com] Many of those fake accounts are being driven by 'bots posting fake reviews and social stats.

Social spam has been around for years, but went big-time in 2010. In Q4 2010, Google merged Google Places results into main web search. Google Places results could be easily spammed with fake reviews before that, but few people had bothered until those results boosted rankings in web search. Then the spam floodgates opened. Google was so heavily spammed that the mainstream press noticed. Google had to back off a bit on using Places results in web search to get their search quality back up.

The legacy of that debacle is that it became widely known that social spam was a safe, almost respectable SEO activity. Link farms, the previous way to spam Google, are expensive to run, and when Google detects one and blacklists it, an entire server farm suddenly becomes useless. Social spam doesn't put SEO operators at risk. The social networks even host the spam for free!

There's a potential winner in this - Amazon. Amazon knows if you actually paid money for the thing. They have identity data from credit cards. Amazon can still be spammed [amazon.com] , but the spammer has to spend money, so the cost per spam is high.

Are the police involved (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41130311)

Are the police/fbi involved ? because they should be, what the companies employing him did is fraud and false misrepresentation, across state lines too, conspiracy to defraud is a criminal matter no ?

Consumer Reports any good? (1)

Shempster (2523982) | about 2 years ago | (#41130397)

What are your opinions on "Consumer Report" reviews? Are they legit to any degree? I'm trying to find a dependable central A/C & heating package. Every damn review out there is well written astroturf lies. After reading around a dozen positive reviews for a particular brand/model, I almost bought it, but luckily, I ran across a very negative, very detailed, review. Whether or not that one negative review was legit or from a competitor, I truly could not discern. It just seemed like a real dissatisfied customer warning others not to fall for a piece of expensive high-maintenance garbage . So I kept looking. Still am.

5 stars (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 2 years ago | (#41130489)

This article was totally gripping and enthralled me from beginning to end. I should've been doing analysis on my pump temperature data, but thanks to this article, I guess my report will be late. I'm so glad that I subscribed to the NYT, because David Streitfeld really knows how to do his research and produce an accurate and compelling report. It changed my life; I'll never look at online testimonials the same ever again.

When lynching becomes fashionable again... (1)

Clueless Nick (883532) | about 2 years ago | (#41130985)

Please give priority to 'Social Media Consultants' and 'Search Engine Optimisation Experts'.

In The Old Paper Days "Reviews" Were (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41131271)

Called "Testimonials".

For a gentle (and fun) introduction to the world Testimonials, the ancestors Reviews descend from, read the stories of O'Henry's "Gentle Grafter". Available free via Project Gutenberg.

Also read the back (advertising) pages in old comic books, from the nineteen-fifties and 'sixties. visit a collector, if you know one, or a shop where you can peruse imperfects.

There are lots of other literary sources, including movies. W.C.Fields selling a patent medicine that "cures hoarseness" is famous. In the trade the practice is called "shilling". It was around before writing. Monkish Testimonials can be found on vellum. The printing press spread Testimonializing wider, farther and faster. The computer did not really effect Testimonializing as testimonial value is in the distribution. The internet distributes... And what about Twitter?: "Shiller@hype: I lost 20# drinking Amway Soap! Screw Diets!"... ... ...

1/3 is way too low! (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41131429)

You have to assume that AT BEST any customer data you see has been screened. If customer satisfaction data is published, the only rational reason for doing so is as a form of advertising.

Only a third of online reviews are fake? The idea is laughable because most on-line reviews are positive.

People are much more motivated to post a negative comments than a 100% positive one. This is because when people get screwed, they are angry which is a strong motivator for action. When you get what you expect, you are in contrast mildly pleased and this doesn't normally prompt a response. Also, there is a rational motivation for posting a critical review. The things you specifically point out are more likely to be fixed because of your having complained about them, if the developer is paying attention to reviews at all. 100% positive or maximal-rating reviews give no actionable feedback. So both from a rational and irrational motivation standpoint, a customer is much more likely to give a negaive review when poorly (or even fairly) served than a satisfied customer is to post a positive review when receiving exceptional service.

Additionally, is it really credible that exceptional service is the NORM?

I therefore assume that unless there is some barrier between the reviewing organization and the reviewed one, that the top ratings are ALL shills of some kind or another. The only ones worth paying attention to are the middle-rating and negative ones, and you can rarely trust that the negatives are uncensored.

I'd like to see some research by third parties on what the relationship is between customer satisfaction, likeliness of customers to review products and how those ratings look compared to what customers really think.

Gotta read the negatives (1)

downhole (831621) | about 2 years ago | (#41131829)

I learned long ago that you should make sure that you look at the negative reviews to really get a feel for a product. For one, there's always some of the dopes that are never satisfied with anything and will give awful reviews for trivial reasons. If their reviews AREN'T present, then they're being removed or edited out, which should make you wonder what else is being removed. Then there's usually some people who are unhappy with some aspect of the thing for a legitimate reason - these are the people to listen to, to be aware of what the thing's real issues are and consider whether they affect you.

Fake negative reviews of competitors are worse (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 2 years ago | (#41132563)

While fake reviews are never good... there are enough incompetent idiots out there posting reviews, that requires specific strategies to deal with.

Using walmart.com as an example, they ask everyone whether they'd suggest the item to a friend, and compile the votes. Anything less than 70% posiitive is likely a crap product. And you can't buy enough reviewers to move that percentage too far into positive territory. From there, reading the top two comments, then reading through as many of the comments that rated the product poorly, to see what kind of pitfalls I need to be concerned with, and selectively discarding any which could be defects (unless there's a high number of such comments.)

This strategy works well on many sites. Sadly Amazon doesn't allow sorting comments by lowest rating first, nor do they request whether you'd recomend the product, so there it's a free-for-all... read as many as you can stomache and take the chance. But even there, buying reviewers wouldn't give them enough signal-to-noise to hide a significant number of negative reviews.

However, they certainly COULD buy enough reviewers to damage the otherwise positive reputation of a competitors product. I suspect this doesn't happen because such behavior might legally be considered libel.

Reviews certainly are immensely useful... I couldn't stand buying from some stores (like walmart) because you can't trust the company to only stock decent-quality products. But with a large number of reviews, consumers are finally empowered to keep from falling victim to such dirty behavior, and a little bit of peeing in the pool won't be able to change that.

I still trust online reviews... (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | about 2 years ago | (#41132857)

In fact, I use them extensively in making decisions on buying lots of stuff. It's pretty easy to know which products have a lot of reviews from shills. I first find products with lots and lots of reviews (or sites that have lots of reviews about the product). I read some of the positives, then some of the negatives to see how they stack up. It's pretty easy to tell who put a negative review in because of a bad experience and not necessarily because of a bad product.

If I'm making a really serious buy, I'll check forums too. It's really rare for forum posts to have many paid comments and communities are good at pointing them out. I've been using Reddit for this lately too; I've found EVERYTHING on there and can usually get some good commentary on a product (unless it's really, really obscure).

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41133313)

I think that as with any reputational system, it's easy to reduce defections to an acceptable level.

Simple increase the cost of defection. Make it harder to be a fake reviewer, and easier to be a real one. One thing a lot of places do, which I imagine works with many products is, require the person to actually buy one (and wait some period of time) before they can review it. Then if you want 300 reviews on Brand X TV, you have to make 300 accounts, with different emails, names, and credit cards, actually buy 300 of them (and not return them). THEN you can give all 300 glowing reviews. That makes it hard for even professional reviewers to efficiently beat the system.

Also, make it against the TOS, and give the TOS some teeth. (f.e. sue them for fraud).

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