This post builds on my previous post, I guess, in the sense that the disconnection between people online often causes people to kill their mental ‘tact’ process and just go full-knee-jerk mode. I experienced this today when I received an update from Amazon saying that someone had posted a reply to my review of a product that I wrote. Rather surprisingly, and perhaps rather patronisingly, the reviewer stated that we “must have been using a different product”, that he “couldn’t be bothered to respond to my individual points” and that “people should ignore my review” (paraphrases).
To boot, my 800-word review, which I consider to be fair (even if unfavourable) has so far attracted 2 votes, both of which say that my review is ‘unhelpful’. The fact that my review is neatly itemised, summarised and moderately lengthy, seems to undermine those votes. Nevermind, democracy is democracy – even if it is blind. What’s important is the free-reign (which I respect, in principle) of people vote for the things they personally consider helpful or useful. Unfortunately, however, this can have negative results.
When I poked around the other reviews for the product (of which >15% were less than 4 stars), I found a pattern: there were three or four users, all of which have given the product 5 star reviews, going around commenting on other people’s reviews. Furthermore, rather than being polite and asking people why they had experiences, they were quite rude – even calling reviewers names. After all, the reviews left on Amazon are (usually) not written by professionals – they are average human beings who have had an experience with the product. Most of the time, they either like or they don’t, and most people appreciate it when reviewers describe their own personal experience with the product. What’s weird is when people try to contradict you, i.e. “clearly you’re wrong as that’s not the experience I had”. That doesn’t mean anything. If I say “I don’t like the taste of chocolate” and you say “well I do” then you haven’t successfully rebutted my argument as there was no argument in the first place.
Another interesting point that has come out is where the commenter, i.e., not the original poster, starts to talk about how the product compares to other products on the market. “Oh, but it’s cheaper than product X” or “oh, it has a feature that product Y doesn’t have”. Again, this is a personal review. If you’re seriously considering buying an expensive product then you read many professional reviews for it. In these reviews, typically, the professional reviewer will compare it to other products. If I post a personal review saying “this product had poor performance” and then you tell me that “it has better performance than product Z” – you have not successfully rebutted me. Once again, there is no argument to rebut – it is a personal opinion. I am reviewing product A and only product A – if I haven’t experienced Products X, Y, or Z, I cannot describe my experience with them.
Finally, there’s this rather sad “clique” effect. In the online community, we call them “fanboys” – the people who love a product, game, band, service, franchise, or brand so much that they cannot stand for any criticism of it. Typical examples include Star Wars, Apple, and Justin Bieber; say something negative about any of these things in certain areas and you will feel the flames of fanboys. Fanboys will just contradict you – much like someone defending their religion or mother; it’s just automatic, knee-jerk emotion. Say something negative and they won’t even try to understand your reasons they’ll just reply – completely ignoring your points; the commenter who replied to my review demonstrated this with his comment about “not responding to individual points”.
Unfortunately, this behaviour is insidious. When you first land on a product on Amazon, you’re created by the cheery product image, price, details and description. You then scroll down to read the reviews. Amazon, rather nicely, is honest about the reviews it receives and counts them up depending on their star rating and displays them in a tidy little box with refinement links. This is great – you often find that the best reviews (i.e., the most even-handed) are two and four star reviews as these tend to be, in my experience, people who are discerning and thoughtful. One star reviews tend to be from people who had some totally unrelated experience – like the delivery was late, or they cut themselves on the bubblewrap. Five star reviews tend to be from people who are scarcely qualified to review the product as their eyes were misty from the tears of joy of finally owning their very own product A.
When you view these reviews they tend to be sorted by how ‘useful’ people think they are and, like the M25, we circle back to where we started. I consider my review to be helpful – alas, I suspect, fanboys have gone and voted it down, which means that it will appear lower in the rankings. Indeed, when you visit the reviews section of the product – the only ones listed on the main page are 5 stars. This, I believe, is because when people see the question “was this review helpful?” they actually see “do you agree with this review?” Imagine a website where your mum was being reviewed and people were putting her down, talking about her weight and that scraggily tooth she has, etc., and then you saw a link that says “do you agree with this opinion of your mum?” – what would you do? Your instinct would be to hit the “no” button and hope that no one reads it.
Of course, that review of your mum, might be even-handed. “Oh,” the reviewer writes, “she looked great when fully dressed but once the dress came off…” and so forth. It might even be accurate. However, the question you saw when you clicked ‘no’ was “do you agree?” This, of course, is not the purpose of the question. Unfortunately, then, this is the problem. People are free to read all the reviews (so long as Amazon hasn’t removed them) and people can – and should – dig around for as much information as possible. The problem is that people don’t do that. They see what they want to see. If they see smiling faces in adverts, grinning celebrities and a bunch of 5 star reviews from “average users” then they’re going to buy the product … and they might be disappointed.
I don’t disagree with online democracy, I think it’s great. I also don’t disagree with people disagreeing with me. The thing I disagree with is people who leave odious comments attached to people’s reviews, calling them names and failing to even respond to their points. Democracy isn’t perfect and one negative result is behaviour like this – people who, you would hope, wouldn’t have the guts to say this sort of stuff to you to your face. The type of people who, I suspect, would realise what they’re saying is irrelevant if they just bothered to think about and break away from the knee-jerk reaction they are so accustomed to.
It’s just a shame. Like the Tory party in the UK, democracy has spoken (well, not really – bloody coalitions) and we have to respect it. It’s worth protecting even if it results in such awful behaviour.