At the turn of the millennium, the concept of product reviews saw something of a postmodernist reinvention throughout the Western hemisphere, which corresponded with the advent of ‘Web 2.0.’ The two most notable manifestations of this would most definitely be user reviews, and review aggregators such as Metacritic.
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Review aggregators, if you weren’t previously aware, are sites which use algorithms to calculate average scores from an international portfolio of critical publications – in order to inform and influence the purchasing decisions of their visitors. Many allow users to sign up and leave their own reviews also: contributing to a separate ‘community‘ aggregate score.
It is highly arguable whether the changes such services has brought are akin to a reviews renaissance or if their success is the result of teleopathic fallacy, and it’s about time we think seriously about how this has affected the landscape of the review industry and who it has affected. It’s essential that we seriously consider what changes are needed to help improve the future of online shopping, whether the Blockchain might be just the instrument to facilitate them.
Quantity over quality: the problem with review aggregates
If a writer’s 1,000-word product review is featured on Metacritic, but nobody cares to read it, was there any value to the content produced at all?
A common complaint that has been levied against review aggregators are related to the subsequent effects of their core conceptual function. These sites re-contextualize the purpose of a review from a self-contained assessment that reflects the individual writer’s opinion and style; into a homogenized component of a greater aggregate, headlined by a numerical score converted from often differing scales. Some partnered publications don’t even assign scores to their reviews. Another result of this is a devaluation of each review featured, with each facing a depreciation of relative influence.
There is a range of possible flaws in this concept that stands out immediately, which can be tied to a set of key questions, including:
- How is the algorithm weight the importance of each publication and it’s proportional contribution to the final aggregate?
- What is site’s validation processes with regards to their partnership with critics?
- And to what extent, if any, do the interests of the site’s advertisers affect the objectivity of their reporting?
Academic and business-oriented studies have confirmed that these aggregate scores have had a huge influence on the development of products they relate to, with particular reference to digital media and the video game industry. Presenting reviews as raw numbers and singular bylines is reductive to the qualitative value of the feedback, as opinions on quality are simplified into “Good,” “Average” or “Bad” (or green, yellow and red on Metacritic).
As a result of this, we are more likely to see a cap on the upper and lower extremes quality overall: alongside the unique features that inform the positive or negative aspects of the score. Ideally, feedback should contribute to informing innovation within new product developments; however, aggregation has seemingly resulted in product homogenization and predictably uniform features.
Fixing user reviews: when the customer doesn’t always write
The thing is, professional product reviews as an industry has suffered from a lack of transparency since their inception. Due to their strict reliance on advertising revenue, they have always been plagued by allegations of misrepresenting products produced by their clients.
Customer reviews, on the other hand, have the benefit of the reader being able to identify with the first-hand impressions of a peer. Research has shown that most online shoppers do indeed trust reviews they read, with a more prevalent issue being a lack of motivation from customers towards actually write them.
A “lack of time and incentives” has been identified as the most prominent reason given by people surveyed, which is where a particular Zurich, Switzerland team of developers come in.
‘Lina’ has seemingly killed two birds with one stone, with a new Ethereum backed platform titled ‘Lina.review.’ The team behind the project claim to bypass the potential for corruption by taking advantage of the Blockchain’s inherent anonymity and transparency benefits.
One of the projects primary objectives is to incentivize real customer reviewers towards producing high quality, objective and frequent content. This will hopefully lead to a higher consistency of output from top community writers through the creation of a tokenized review community (‘Lina Token’), which promises to reward good work from writers with tangible rewards; as well as increasing consumer confidence.
Lina’s highly anticipated ICO is set for launch on Jan. 15th 2018.