Monthly Archives: August 2014

Can you tell the difference between “paid” reviews versus “real” reviews?

Whenever people learn that I do research about online reviews, this is the NUMBER ONE question that I am asked.  Or some variant of it.

Let me start off by saying that I understand the concern about fake reviews.  However, I also believe that this is an area that’s sort of been hyped by the mass media.  Sure, we have all read about cases of people writing fake reviews for profit, as well as people trying to “game the system” in other ways. (After all, this happens in virtually every realm of human activity.)   But let’s remember that just because we’ve been able to identity, or detect, a few instances of unethical behavior, doesn’t mean that the majority of cases are like that.  Think about it – when we read a news story about online reviews, it is typically about someone getting busted for doing something that violates the rules…but when do we ever hear any stories about the thousands of people who have no ulterior motives in posting their reviews?

At this point in time, billions of reviews have been posted online.  Literally billions. From a simple economic standpoint, it is unlikely that *the majority of a billion reviews* could have been paid for.

Although I am by no means an expert on deception detection, here is a brief list of some of the popular “red flags” which, we are told, are signals that a review might be fake.  (Most of these tips will probably seem like common sense to you.)

1)      Be skeptical of a reviewer who’s only posted 1 review on the site.  The general rule of thumb is that the more reviews an individual has posted on a particular site, the more trustworthy that reviewer is likely to be.

2)       Beware of reviews that consist of empty superficial descriptions with no specifics of personal experience. Or reviews that just list a bunch of product features.

3)      Reviewers who spend a lot of time endorsing a competitor’s product within their review may also be suspicious.

4)      You might want to question those reviews that are 100% good or 100% negative –in other words, the ones that are categorical in their assessment.  So a “balanced perspective” is something to look for in a quality review.  In other words, legitimate reviewers often demonstrate that they are able to discern and discriminate between different features of a single product or service.

[For example, my early work on TripAdvisor showed that quite a few negative reviews actually did include some positive features.  So 1-star reviews would often also include positive statements such as the following: “One good thing was that the bed linen was fresh,” “The place was clean. That is the one good thing i can say,” “Firstly the good points… there were plenty of beach chairs” and “The good: It was a large room with a bed.” ]

I believe that I have some good news to add to this conversation.  Out of the 1,000 reviews which I sampled in a semi-random fashion for my book, very few struck me as potentially “fake” (in the sense of possessing one or more of the aforementioned “red flag” characteristics.)  On the contrary, most of the reviews in my sample were quirky, idiosyncratic, and full of so many odd personal details that I often found myself thinking: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

My book is out!

Last week, I went to my office on campus, and waiting for me was a big box, wrapped in a big mailing bag with a return address from Sweden.  In it, there were 6 hardcover copies of my book sent to me from my publisher!


Honestly, it felt a bit surreal to hold in my hands this tangible, concrete object that began — over 3 years ago — as a few loosely-connected ideas scribbled onto a half-sheet of paper in a HelloKitty notebook.

I held my breath as I first turned the pages, gradually exhaling a little bit at a time, as I checked that yes, it was really all in there,  the tables looked good, and the edits I requested had been made.

And then I spotted my first typo in Chapter 5.  It made me smile as I recalled an often-quoted phrase that one of my former professors used to say: “There is error in all we do.”I know that I am likely to catch 1 or 2 more typos as I study the culmination of my efforts more carefully, but right now, I am still smiling.



A Brief History of Online Reviews

I was recently asked if we know when the very first online review was posted. Although I don’t have a specific date, the earliest user-generated consumer reviews probably appeared online sometime in the mid- 1990s.

Let me elaborate a bit on that.

Of the 5 review sites that I have studied, Amazon is the oldest.   As a business Amazon was launched in 1994, and according to the company’s description, consumer reviews have been an important part of the site since its earliest days.  Other review sites, like Epinions, have also been around since the mid-to-late 1990s. However, as more of a widespread phenomenon, user-generated review content really started taking off in the era of “Web 2.0,” in the early 2000s.  And by the mid-2000s, review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, had become massive businesses as well as global phenomena.

Pocket Shakespeare for your Iphone

I am always inspired by people who are creative and resourceful, and who make their ideas come alive.

About a year ago, my writer friend Jim set a goal for himself to re-read all of Shakespeare’s plays.  And while he was at it, he decided he would write a short (around 300 words) summary of each.  And if that wasn’t enough, he decided to learn the ins-and-outs of creating an I-phone app at the same time.  The exciting result of this project is Shakespeare 300.


It’s an I-phone app that provides cool visuals, infographics and overviews of all of Shakespeare’s plays, so you can brush up on plotlines, characters and related trivia – while you’re waiting to get in the door, during intermission, or whenever!

Check it out for more info: