The Trustworthiness of Online Reviews

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The internet has given rise to something of a consumer revolution. We no longer have to buy items blindly or book a holiday at a resort simply because it looks nice. Consumers now have the ability to browse thousands of similar products and comparison shop or peruse reviews of everything from their local expensive restaurant to five star pet hotels. But how trustworthy are those reviews?

As it turns out this may not be the perfect revolution for consumers. Recent studies into online reviews by researchers at Yale, Dartmouth and USC have found evidence that hotel owners have been posting fake reviews to boost their ratings on sites like TripAdvisor. There’s also evidence to suggest that these some owners may have been posting negative reviews of nearby competitors.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard such stories. In 2004 Amazon’s Canadian site accidentally revealed the identities of many anonymous book reviewers, and many of those reviewers turned out to be publishers and the authors themselves.

For the cynical this may not come as a surprise. Many sites allow people to post reviews for free, and some even anonymously, making it easy for companies to use the systems as a quick marketing tool – or a sabotage one as it so happens.

While the evidence mounts, does that mean consumers are making a mistake using sites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp? Not necessarily. While there are fake posts out there, there are an equal number (if not more) of honest and helpful reviews made by people who are passionate about getting their opinion out there and helping others and proving that crowd sourced evaluation can work.

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