The Internet has helped a lot of people make better decisions about which movies to watch, where to eat, and where to sleep. But on the other side of any sophisticated system designed to produce fair and honest appraisals will be equally resourceful schemers looking to game the system. In fact, given the subversive efforts of those working to undermine honest rating systems, it’s a testament to the fundamental good nature and public spiritedness of human beings that crowdsourced evaluation doesn’t unravel completely. The only way group feedback can survive is if there is a massive counterweight of reviewers taking the time to provide honest feedback despite the complete absence of economic incentives for doing so.
Whenever I’m thinking about buying a thing on Amazon, I read a bunch of user reviews. I do the same for restaurants I’m thinking about eating in. Or, at least, I used to. Can you trust user reviews? The reason why I read so many is because the reviews are often conflicting, and also, a lot of them are fake. Last year, I found a user thread on a forum called Digital Point where someone was offering “reputation management” services, which basically meant you’d pay them to make your business look good, and they’d do that by writing fake reviews on sites like Amazon, Yelp, and CitySearch telling everyone how much they loved your product, or business (the Times has a story about that here. I’ve basically stopped using review sites now, other than to look up prices or locations, and instead rely on friends and more trustworthy review sites (like: The Wirecutter!).