The Gamification of Online Reviews

October 26th, 2015 by 

One of the major benefits of the internet (even if we don't talk about it enough!) is our ability to near-instantaneously take a sample of public opinion on various subjects, products, services, locations, companies - and, well, anything else we can be bothered to search.  Figuring out the best online reviews, then, should be simple - and it would be, if it wasn't for review gamification, spam, and review tricks and fraud.

But back to "reputation-by-overwhelming-evidence".

This change to our society has had profound implications which seem to have gone mostly unnoted: finding consensus on reviews in the past required you to have shopaholic friends, or friends obsessively detailed about calling other people who used a product or service.

And even then, I can today beat a shopaholic to understanding a consensus in 2 minutes on my smartphone.

What's Changed Today?  Where are the Best Online Reviews?

Used Yelp!ResellerRatingsEBay's User FeedbackAmazon Reviews?

All of these are excellent examples of places where we check the reliability of sellers and products today - and certainly are among the most popular places, if not the exact best online reviews you can find.  They also are under constant attack from people and companies looking to game the system.

Nowadays, we are exposed to many more advertisements and products than at any time in the past, and we've adapted by flocking to sites like these which let us quickly attempt to figure out reliability and worthiness.  Companies know this too: user-driven review sites are the subject of constant controversy, sometimes on the company side and sometimes on the user side.

Best online reviews: Picture of war re-enactors

Want the best online reviews?  Don't ask non-real soldiers.

You can see this review gamification show up in all sorts of random places, too - paid link placement on blogs, buying followers on Facebook and Twitter (and all sorts of annoying schemes like following tons of people expecting in-kind responses), and all sorts of other attempts to make things seem more popular or reliable than they actually are.

Policing the Reviews

This arms race is just heating up.

Of particular interest are the attempts by companies to police this sort of nonsense behavior.  Most notably, Amazon recently filed suit against over 1,000 sellers of fake Amazon reviews listing on the freelancing site Fiverr.  Other companies have different campaigns; here are some notable ones:

You can take it to the bank: you'll see more and more nuances and corner cases added to platform policies, and more and more attempts to remove false signals from the system in the future.  And yes, you'll see more new and innovative attempts to reintroduce false signals.

Isn't the Future Bright?

Reviews are Still Useful!  In Fact, That's Why This Matters

Of course, all of this is a much better problem to have than the lack of information we previously had.

As long as review platforms (and social networks) continue to police gamification, spam, and fake accounts, we'll continue to be able to benefit from the ease of discovery that the internet enables.  And that's what it's all about: we not only have exposure to more advertising, but we can also find more products and services that we seek out on our own and are able to make more efficient decisions.  From a consumer perspective, having more products to pick between might sometimes be overwhelming (the so-called 'Paradox of Choice'), but increased competition means higher quality and lower prices if you put in the research.... or, maybe more importantly, find a trustworthy proxy who puts in the research for you.

If all of that seems like nostalgia for the days of centralized reviews in magazines and publications, with professional paid reviewers - it's not likely it's coming back.  However, in the future you can probably expect more review sites which try to cut through the noise and employ their own systems to filter out the false signals - and all sorts of innovative ways people try to get around those filters!

So let us know what you think - how do you find and evaluate new products and services today?  Who do you trust?  Where are the best online reviews?



PK started DQYDJ in 2009 to research and discuss finance and investing and help answer financial questions. He's expanded DQYDJ to build visualizations, calculators, and interactive tools.

PK is in his mid-30s and works and lives in the Bay Area with his wife, two kids, and dog.

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