My name is Russell Newquist. I am a software engineer, a martial artist, an author, an editor, a businessman and a blogger. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science, but I'm technically a high school dropout. I also think that everything in this paragraph is pretty close to meaningless. I work for a really great small company in Huntsville, Alabama building really cool software. I'm the owner and head instructor of Madison Martial Arts Academy, which I opened in 2013 less to make money and more because I just really enjoy a good martial arts workout with friends. I'm the editor in chief of Silver Empire and also one of the published authors there. And, of course, there is this blog - and all of its predecessors. There's no particular reason you should trust anything I say any more than any other source. So read it, read other stuff, and think for your damn self - if our society hasn't yet over-educated you to the point that you've forgotten how.
There are no men like me. There is only me.
If you’re like me then you use online reviews to help you pick an awful lot of things. Books, movies, electronics, services, restaurants… you name it. Unfortunately, there are some very serious issues with online reviews in their current form. A couple of examples:
Let’s start with the GoodReads page for my latest published work, Ghost of the Frost Giant King. Now, Silver Empire is still a pretty small publishing house. We’ve only been in operation since January – less than three months. So our sales are pretty small at this point, and the number of advance preview copies we’ve sent out is pretty small as well. And most of our sales have been direct or nearly so. What this means is that we have customer data for about 90% of the copies of this work that are “in the wild” currently.
So, back to the GoodReads page. As of this writing, there are two ratings – neither with a text review. One of those ratings is from a contest winner who won the book on a GoodReads.com book giveaway. The only problem is, that rating was entered before the book shipped. The person had not yet received it before leaving a rating. The second review was left by someone who is not on my customer data. Now, it’s possible – possible – that it’s a legit review. But no reviews have been left at any of the locations where that purchase would have been made if it were legit, so it’s a tad odd that there would be a review on GoodReads and not the purchase site. Possible. Just odd.
Now, I’m not complaining. These two reviews averaged together give us a 4 star rating. And it’s better to have a 4 star rating from two reviewers than no rating at all. So hey, it’s a win for us. But this is completely unhelpful for our potential customers, which is uncool. It also completely fails to give us any actual feedback – constructive or otherwise – about the product. That’s kind of frustrating, because we’d really like to know if what we put together is any good or not.
Second example: Facebook reviews for my dojo. Out of all of the reviews on our page, we currently have two that are not five star reviews. One is a two star review from a man who explicitly acknowledged that he didn’t mean to leave it… and yet he also hasn’t removed it or changed it. One is a one star review from someone whom I have tracked down and shown to be a student at another dojo. The reviewer has never set foot in my dojo. I’ve even talked to his sensei about it. And yet the review is still there.
I’m still not really complaining. This one is a bit more annoying than the first, as these are definitely bringing down my dojo’s rating on Facebook. But… they bring it down to a 4.8 star rating. I can’t complain about that. And there are also a number of five star ratings from friends who haven’t been students but who are trying to help me out (thanks, by the way – I really appreciate that from all of you!). Which is great – but Facebook really shouldn’t allow it. Hell, Facebook allowed me to leave a rating, even though it’s my own page. Talk about a fail.
Not all online reviews are created equal. Amazon, for instance, does a lot to help things out. If a customer leaves a review on an item that they purchased through Amazon, it gets flagged with a “verified purchase” note. That lets you know that that person actually got that item. Amazon will not allow me to leave ratings on any items that I’ve published, which is good. That keeps at least some honesty in the system. But even there the system isn’t perfect.
Do I still use online reviews? Definitely. But be aware that there are issues, and try to actually read some of the reviews if you get a chance.