|User Reviews of Local Merchants Goes Mainstream...|
on the Apprentice no less
Check it out - have to think that this one tv show may give Yahoo! Local's User Review feature a real jump start.
It will also be an instant education for millions that you can review merchants online, and for small business owners, that they can BE reviewed online.
Full Press Release here [home.businesswire.com]
Brilliant advertising move by Y. Wonder what it costs to have the Apprentice incorporate your product into the story line.
Wonder if the stuff we have been talking about is meaningful.... geez.
I wonder how many of Apprentice viewers that check out the Local Search reviews after the show will then follow through enough to post reviews of their favorite local business (maybe their own business)?
Even if just out of curiousity, there should be some flow through.
I'm more concerned with Yahoo Local users posting negative reviews. Will there be anyway to have a negative listing removed? Is there any mediation process? I'm afraid this will open up a whole can of worms for SMB's using Yahoo Local.
< Will there be anyway to have a negative listing removed
There shouldn't be, or the whole concept becomes bogus.
Our process is as follows - when a merchant complains about a negative review, we take a closer look at the validity of the review (check IP address of the rater, look for site rule violations, etc.) - if there is nothing fishy or against TOS, the review stays - no exceptions.
In extreme cases, we will take the entire merchant listing down - but only at the written request of the merchant.
This is a tremendous challenge for a company like Yahoo - convincing SMEs that it's "OK" to have a negative review on your list page, and even more so, that you may want to consider paying $10 per month for the "privilege" of getting bashed by anonymous, and unverified users. The challenge is amplified, when a G or Y search for a merchant name lists a page with a negative review of that merchant as the first result.
Local reviews by anonymous users is DOA IMHO.
Someone publishes "Webwork is a dishonest lawyer", and we don't know if it's the ex-spouse of someone whom I took to task in a divorce proceeding, then I promise - promise - the forum operator that allows such anonymous crap to stand will get sued. No question. Likewise, at the local level, Mr. Restauranteur, will take you to task over the alleged cockroach in the soup.
The anonymous world works for anonymous forum posters. When one anonymous nobody flames another anonymous nobody it's hard to make it into a case. When one anonymous nobody flames/discredits/badmouths a known entity then don't expect the same response.
Major headaches coming. It's one thing for a known, professional yet 'anonymous' food critic to write about a restaurant. There are assumed standards and safeguards. That is not at all the game with anonymous publication on the web. This will be abused massively unless intelligent safeguards can be built in - such as requiring actual disclosure and verification of identity before critiquing a known local business.
There are agencies who are in place to handle complaints that require full disclosure: BBB, peer review boards, professional accreditation boards, etc. It's the disclosure that makes them work because it lends itself to real verification.
Promise: At the local level this will die after an experimental period unless tightly controlled, and that level of control is costly, which argues against it. Abuse will be rampant absent such controls.
I'm either clueless or have a crystal ball. This won't be middle ground matter. As a business model I predict failure in the long run - or short. The money to be made from offering 'the service' will be more than offset by the headaches and expense.
I promise, there will be skilled people who, for a fee, will break this system down routinely and once word gets out about how it's done - gaming the review system - the value of the reviews will no add sufficient value to a site to justify the headaches.
Geesh, why am I so convinced? I guess it's based upon seeing how Yahoo Finance boards are so chock-a-block with manipulators. For example:
Oh well. Let the games begin.
< Local reviews by anonymous users is DOA
Folks were saying the same thing about user product reviews a couple years ago, yet they have survived - even thrived - and are a critical piece of the business model of companies like Amazon, Shopping.com, CNET, and IACI to name a few.
I don't see the banning of online opinions as a feasible direction for the Internet - how does the online discussion of local merchants differ from the online discussion of say, search engines, or politicians, or celebrities?
IMHO the concept of criminalizing anonymous reviews of local merchants just doesn't scale well, as there is no way to draw the line.
I do agree with you however, that companies that are unable to at least present the appearance of legitimacy in regards to user reviews will run into problems staying in business - not so much due to legal issues, but due to the perception of an inferior service.
Here's the friction that will break down the machine:
MegaBigCorp is soooo big they know that only in the most extreme cases - say an alleged wrongful dust-up in the NYTimes - that the economics of fire suppression are worth the investment. Otherwise, MegaBigCorp, which sells to millions of people in dozens of countries, just can't be bothered swatting flies. It will hope that other factors - such as mass advertising and word of mouth customer satisfaction - will prevail.
Bob the Butcher, on the other hand, has a real stake in his reputation. Bobs's capacity to absorb bad press (publication of bad reviews) is likely far less than MegaBigCorp. "Hey, Bob sold my mother horsemeat labelled prime rib the other day" is far more likely to draw out the daggers than someone on a forum posting "MegaBigCorps widgets blow". In Bob's case local lawyer Sallie probably won't require a $100,000 retainer to get the ball rolling to defend her uncle's reputation.
The more local the more personal. The more personal the more evocative. The more local the smaller the crowd that needs to be adversely influenced to have an impact. Local is different.
People will fight back at the local level. I'll be right there alongside them with my briefcase in the right circumstances. Multiply that times 20, 40 or 100 honestly aggrieved local businesses for any sizable locale in a given year - if the flamers aren't tightly controlled - and you begin to see that the cost/benefit analysis of running a review forum begins to tip.
Anonymous reviews at the local level are destined for the trash heap barring legislation or case law that more fully immunizes the forum. I don't see that happening as local businesses will more likely have a voice in the legislature than Joe/Jill anonymous.
Of course, I can't predict the future. I can, however, satisfy myself that certain elements of the local review business model are like putting screen windows on submarines. All is well down to a certain level of detail. Anonymous posts invites abuse. Abuse management takes money and effort to control. Factor in lawsuits. Measure all the costs and weigh that against the benefits. When costs of the system > financial gain then friction grinds the machine to a halt.
Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of information. I like the idea of reviews. I just think that when the marketplace catches up with the downside of online anonymous reviews and the abuse really begins to kick in you will see this model start to grind its gears.
The only remedy I see is a better system of establishing the trustworthiness of the opinions expressed. If that can be worked out then the opinions expressed begin to have weight.
Barring that cynicism arising from abuse will seriously devalue the effort.
OBTW - you haven't seen it yet but soon enough even MegBigCorp will have teams inside or outsourced whose job it is to keep track of the buzz in review forums and to weigh in with their opinions.
Just look at what certain organizations are able to do when it comes to petitioning Congressmen to vote on a given bill.
You think that same model won't be applied in the case of Walmart reviews, etc? No getting the troops out?
It's only the beginning. Keep repeating that and you'll begin to suffer the concerns I do, which may be my own wrongheaded thinking. ;-)
We have a small site that provides positive and negative user reviews and ratings for an industry. Once service providers become aware of your site, they can be completely viscious (for lack of a better word) in protecting their reputation. Most larger operators are unaware/don't care about how user reviews may affect service providers.