Social Q&A sites and user reviews

INF506, Module 2, OLJ questions:
-What are your thoughts about the credibility or quality of user reviews?
-Could they be used as good evidence of the quality of services or products?
-How do you think about charging customers for leaving bad reviews on Tripadvisor?

It’s hard to have an across the board opinion when it comes to user reviews. There seems to be so many of them around these days and the level of feedback on a given site can vary quite a lot. So too can the quality.

One website of questionable quality is Rate My Teachers. This site is largely used by school students (the users) to rate the performance of their teachers. These reviews do carry some credibility because they are typically written by students who have actually experienced the teaching they are reviewing. However, such a website also lacks credibility because there is no way of knowing if it’s an actual student of the teacher. Anyone can rate a teacher. Assuming it is a genuine review, has the student’s view been negatively skewed after getting a poor mark, or getting into trouble over a certain issue? The poor mark or discipline received may have been entirely appropriate. However, that doesn’t mean the student is not left with an axe to grind. A site such as Rate My Teachers provides an easy outlet to grind that axe, often in an inaccurate and unfair manner.

Rate My Teachers is not alone in this regard. In any system of user review there is an opportunity for people to exploit it for their own means. The reviewers are largely anonymous and are held to few, if any, professional standards. Certainly not like those professionally employed critics must meet.

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that a very large number of user reviews on a given topic doesn’t carry more weight than a single review from a paid professional. I think this is where the key lies – the weight of numbers. My own view is that if there are only a handful of user reviews about a given product I’d be quite wary. However, once the reviews are in the tens or, even better, hundreds, a meaningful pattern of information is there to be considered. As with any set of statistics really, you need to allow time for a pattern to emerge.

It was extremely surprising, and worrying, to also read in this module of customers being charged for leaving bad reviews on Tripadviser. I’d not heard of this, but of course this would undermine the credibility of Tripadviser altogether if widespread. It would be very interesting to know the organisations that were charging for leaving bad reviews. My feeling would be that they are not companies that have great confidence in their own business. I’d want to be avoiding them. It also seems like a doomed strategy in an ever-evolving Web 2.0 world. If Tripadviser cannot be alerted to such cases and find a way to stop it happening, then the nature of Web 2.0 would indicate that a new and better service will emerge to succeed it. One that allows users to more fully and freely interact with each other.

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