Are user generated reviews reliable?

The current March to April issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine has an article about user generated reviews that raises some interesting issues. I looked at the commercial invasion of the blogging world in one of my previous posts, but here author Christopher Elliott raises the issue of interested parties posting positive comments about their own businesses and negative ones about others, raising their star status and damaging others.

I was particularly drawn to this article because it addresses a problem faced by frequent travelers, and having spent a couple of years all in all on the road with all of my worldly belongings on my back I can relate to the problem.

Local offering help to lost travellers

Ask a local for advice and he looks it up on his iPhone

When you are out there alone, who better to ask for advice than fellow travelers? Many look to the internet for recommendation, and here lies the problem, lack of competition. There are really only 2 large websites of reference, Yelp and Travel Advisor, so it is relatively easy to either build up a profile or destroy somebody else’s using different user names and computers.

Within the industry an understanding of the problem is widespread, and both companies named above defend their positions stating that they have vetting procedures to catch out the bogus reviewers. It is very telling however that after a British Advertising Standards Agency investigation, Trip Advisor changed its slogan from “reviews you can trust” to “reviews from our community”, the implications are obvious.

The broader implications are vast too, many people read reviews before choosing a dentist or a school for their kids, and a bit of underhand behaviour could easily destroy somebody’s reputation.

My personal opinion is that these problems are representative of wider issues of internet governance. They are essentially born out of monopoly, the democratizing power of the internet and peer to peer communication usurped by business interests and competition. An infiltration of commercial interest into a non commercial ideology, that of offering advice to someone who finds themselves in a position that you were once in, becomes unreliable.

18 thoughts on “Are user generated reviews reliable?

  1. I have always had my doubts about user generated reviews, especially at online retail stores. Who is to say the reviewers isn’t someone paid by the company itself? I try to read every single comment in the hope that if there is any hidden truth, I hopefully find it and know about it before spending my money on the product.


  2. Agreed that you need to read user reviews carefully. You mentioned Yelp and I do find myself you using it often. I try to find places that have a large number of reviews from people that look trustworthy. I will often look for users who review multiple places honestly. These “good” reviewers can be tough to spot. However, a reviewer who has posted an awesome review of 1 place sticks out like a sore thumb.

  3. I’m a big user of tripadvisor however I generally disregard reviews that are at either end of the spectrum.

    I think one of the biggest areas of review abuse is in Google places. A lot of people are on to the fact that Google takes the reviews into account in its ranking algorithm and simply enter their own or get friends to enter them.

  4. True, in fact, I used to check Travel Advisor before to check for existing reviews about the resorts and the tourist destinations I plan to visit. Thing is, I only saw extremes: too much praises and curses. At the end of the day, that doesn’t help me choose a destination.

    • Christopher (admin team)

      There are other sites you can use too Mae, just research it a bit. I know you say that there are too many at the extremes, but if you ignore the very top and very bottom, are they not useful?

      Thanks for the comment, welcome to Technology Bloggers 🙂
      Christopher – Admin Team

  5. You’re right, reviews can be fake and promotional. You know what I sometimes do when I need an accurate opinion on a product? A couple of things like: 1) Look up a video on YouTube about it. If the video directs to the merchant page with an affiliate tracking ID it’s clearly promotional but otherwise it’s genuine, in most cases. Moreover, the details they mention in content itself is enough to identify whether the reviewer knows what he’s talking about or is just tricking the viewer.

    Second and my favourite one is: Search “productname forum” this way you can find forums talking about the product and read what real people in real forums think about it.

    • Christopher (admin team)

      Some good extra advice their Jack. I think looking on forums can be really good, but again, be careful for bogus/fake reviews.

      Thanks for the comment, welcome to the blog 🙂
      Christopher – Admin Team

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