The New York Times recently highlighted a topic that's been in debate for quite a while: bogus reviews. In this world where anyone can be a publisher or a reviewer and the loudest voice is sometimes heard over reason, my predominant thought is "caveat emptor." The story in The New York Times focuses on the situation with Amazon's book reviews. Look up any book on Amazon and then scroll down to read the vast amount of reviews. Even out-of-print books have a large number of reviews. There's the well read (?!) "hall of fame reviewer" Harriet Klausner who has more than 28,000 reviews logged on the site. Even as a self-proclaimed speed reader and former acquisitions librarian, that amount of reviews averages out to 6.5 reviews a day, everyday….for more than 12 years. With all due respect to Mrs. Klausner, I find it hard to take a review from her seriously.
Joe Wikert recently suggested an eloquent solution to this "slippery slope of bogus reviews." In yesterday's blog post he recommends that Amazon only allow reviews from customers who actually bought the book. Simple and logical. While this may mean I can no longer enjoy reviews of things like the Hutzler Banana Slicer or the BIC Crystal for Her Pen, I would prefer a fair analysis about an impending purchase rather than one contrived to falsely promote or slander.
It will be interesting to see how Amazon decides to handle this situation.
In the meantime, I think no matter the purchase---a book from Amazon, an expensive household appliance, or a major investment in enterprise software---the buyer needs to consider a few things and take the time to perform due diligence. Following are five tips I apply to validating any review and determining if the purchase is a worthy investment
- Does the reviewer provide a pen name?
I'm less likely to value someone's opinion who uses the moniker idle45neato rather than Marianne Calilhanna.
- Is there a way to contact and engage in discussion?
Even if I don't follow up with a reviewer, I like to see that there is the option to email or a web form where I can engage in further conversation.
- Does the reviewer list credentials or is she/he affiliated with a valid company/organization?
I want to know why I should trust someone's opinion. I often use LinkedIn to research additional information like education, company affiliation, work experience, and qualifications.
- If the review is via a blog post, are comments allowed?
When a blog post disables comments, I am immediately leery. One-way communication equates to a virtual shout and I can't see how that's helpful or believable.
- Have I talked to other people who use the product?
For big-ticket items, I think most people seek out other opinions. Both good reviews and poor reviews are valid in my book. Understanding why someone may provide a poor review is equally important because I recognize that what's important to me may be different from what's important to someone else.