Anonymous Reviews Make It Too Easy To Game The System

Photo: Flickr/Cara Photography

Last month the New York Times ran this story on fake reviews all over the web.I was a late comer to Angie’s list. You’ve probably been using it for years, so you already know what I just discovered. It has no anonymous reviews. How refreshing. And, how much more useful.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, Angie’s List is perhaps the best known site for listing local service providers in mainstream categories like home maintenance, doctors, nurses, auto repair, and so on. I paid $12 for a year’s worth in my home town, and another $20 for a year’s worth in a second location.

And I saw immediately what should have been perfectly obvious: having no anonymous reviews makes the site way more useful than any other site I’ve dealt with that has reviews. We were looking for air conditioning, and we found that what used to be a word-of-mouth headache was suddenly pretty easy. Having all the reviews identified means I end up believing that the ones with the best reviews are the best vendors.

Do you think that’s a good bet?

I use a lot of reviews these days as I choose hotels, restaurants, and what to buy. And I discount the obvious owner reviews even more than I do the obvious disgruntled customer and/or competitor reviews. On restaurants and hotel sites, my best indicator is not how many stars, but rather how many reviews there are. The restaurant with more than a thousand reviews averaging out to four stars looks better to me than the restaurant with two reviews averaging five stars. I assume that’s the owner and a best friend.

True confession: my brother has a novel listed on amazon.com with five stars. You won’t find it if you look, because he uses a pen name; but there’s one single review for that novel, and you wouldn’t be able to tell this from the way the review is signed, and it doesn’t say it in the review, but I wrote it.

I hope more sites move away from anonymous reviews. I think that’s a great way to deal with all the gaming. If you don’t care enough to say who you are, I don’t want your opinion counted.

I hope it’s obvious to every business owner why gaming reviews is bad business ethics. And, perhaps more important, why it’s bad business: Because it’s going to come out. It will show.

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