Friday, 4 April 2014

On-line reviews

We all know it's an issue:   an establishment such as a restaurant or hotel gets a rave review, but unbeknown to the audience, the review is written or planted by the proprietor.

The ACCC issued some guidelines last November about the matter.  The guidelines are well worth reading and make a lot of sense. 
For example, they address issues such as,  transparency, reviews shouldn't be misleading and that the editing or suppression of reviews is likely to be misleading.    But they also covered matters such as the processes that review sites should follow (including issues about commercial arrangements between review platforms and reviewed businesses), the issue of incentivised reviews and so on.  Reading the Guidelines drew my attention to a range of practices that I, had I thought about the matter, I suppose I would have thought were possible, but I perhaps preferred to think didn't occur often.   Perhaps there's more going on out there than I realised.

The Guidelines have also been the subject of comment in the blogosphere.   Claire Davie's comment seemed particularly good to me.

But, in this era of cyber, how enforceable are guidelines such as these?  Ultimately, common sense has to prevail.  The ACCC's thoughts are only relevant in the Australian context, and the vast majority of the material on the internet is based in other places. Personally, I use reviews to help me understand the nature of the product I am likely to receive.  I don't rely too much on someone elses subjective opinion as to whether a the food or accommodation was "great";  I want to know more practical things, such as, is the accommodation over the road from a noisy night-club?  Was the restaurant so noisy that you couldn't conduct a conversation?    And, the credibility of the reviewer is important.   I don't worry about Jean from Jersey City's comment that she found a hair in the shower cubicle (especially when the track record of  reviewers such as this often show that nothing is ever good enough).   Nor do I take much notice of the one-time-poster who rants on telling us never to use a particular hire car company because he got charged for a dint that he's certain was already there when he picked the car up.

One issue that I'm a bit dubous about is where a hotel chain website actually contains a link to third party review sites (such as TripAdvisor).   Can we always be sure that somewhere in the link process there isn't some smart software that edits or even just ranks these reviews?   Surely TripAdvisor wouldn't stand for this (......well), but software can be smart!

And a final thought:   newspapers!   Look at the travel section!    Is a little line at the end of a glowing review of a cruise or hotel that the writer got a free trip at the end sufficient?

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