Monday, August 22, 2011

Just Google It

by Ian Hoppe

“Just Google it.” This imperative has become the expected response when the common unknown query is posed. And not just when you want to find out Barrack Obama’s favorite brand of chewing gum or the best method of giving your pet gerbil a Mohawk. Closely tied to Google maps is a reviews service. In case you weren’t aware, when you search Google Maps for a company on your smart phone or home computer a page appears with their address, phone number, as well as an option to look at customer reviews.

Of course, this service is not specific to Google. There are several other sites that have business reviews available: Yelp, citysearch, and Epinions being among them. The problem I am about to describe is not specific to Google reviews, nor am I making the argument that Google reviews is superior, because it isn’t. However, a site of this kind where the amount of content is important to accuracy, it is best if everyone agree on an option. I am going to argue that we should use Google for three reasons: 1) We already use Google for everything else 2) They have a good history of keeping up with businesses, maps, and are constantly implementing new features in all of their platforms and 3) They are going to rule the world one day. Deal with it.

In its genesis, I used to frequent this option in helping me make decisions on where to eat, where to take my dog, etc. But in the last couple of years it has become less of a resource for honest evaluations from past patrons, and more of a battle field for public perception.

Like almost every other positive outlet on the internet, it has become a forum in which people attempt to out-crazy one another in the form of wildly exaggerated and abusive reviews. With the ALMIGHTY CAPS LOCK at their disposal, the customers from hell attempt to singlehandedly dismantle the reputation of a company by systematically posting one horror story after another.

We have all seen these folks before. They are the person who feigns an epileptic fit when a rogue hair finds its way onto their plate. You know the type. Previously, (i.e. the entire history of commerce up until the advent of the internet) these people were considered outliers and had little influence on our opinion of an establishment. But now, through this pseudo-anonymous forum, people like this have a significant impact, given the vacuum of other opinions.

Business owners, having their reputations slandered by this very loud minority of customers, developed a need for positive reviews. Enter online reputation managers. You may have heard about these groups on the television or radio, they are hired by a company to not only monitor public data on the internet, but also to go to war with the crazies I described above, with vague, innocuous positive reviews as their weapon of choice.

You see, since none of these review sites allow for the deletion of bad reviews by the company and most people only read the first few reviews, the company keeps the negative reviews ‘bumped’ back in the queue by posting formless and obviously fake reviews like, “This company is great!” This kind of review is even less helpful than the others. The combination of these renders review sites utterly unusable.

Here is my two part solution:

  1. All of the crazies (you know who you are) should take a breather and a valium before they criticize a business for a single lapse in service or product.
  2. Everyone who operates in the marketplace should write reviews. Especially in the event of a good experience. Maybe then we can get rid of these awful manufactured reviews made by the accounts of non-existent people. 

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