by Dennis Yang

Filed Under:
user reviews

We Already Suffer From The Paradox Of Choice, Now We're Paralyzed By The Ubiquity Of User Reviews

from the analysis-paralysis dept

Though you may be finishing your holiday shopping online, away from the mobs at the malls, ubiquitous user reviews on most merchant websites make shopping online slightly less lonely. It's nice to know that you're not the first one to try out some product, but just how helpful are user reviews? Even the most cursory pondering on this subject leads to a whole slew of questions and concerns. Just who are these reviewers and can you trust their opinions? Are they influenced by unseen motives (like free meals)? Perhaps their criteria for judging something is completely different than what you would judge on? Before you know it, you've spent hours chasing user reviews down a rathole, and you've ended up where you started -- no closer to finishing your shopping. So, do user reviews actually make shopping online better, or are they just a waste of time? We are already plagued with the paradox of choice: where an increase in the number of choices available has been shown to actually decrease satisfaction (since by choosing 1 thing, we are not choosing 89 others, and that makes us sad). So, add to this a dizzying array of user opinions, and all of a sudden, even choosing a box of tissues ceases to be a mundane task. Do I want the normal "Puffs" (average rating, 4 stars) or do I want the "Puffs Plus Lotion" (average rating, 5 stars) for more money? Where in this process does the fact that I use my tissues to clean my monitor once in awhile come in to play (in which case the Lotioned tissue would definitely not be a 5 star product)? User reviews have been around for years now, yet not much has been done since they were first launched to make them more useful. Perhaps the true role of user reviews is to serve as a sort of a sanity check -- it's the health rating posted at the front of a restaurant. As long as nobody has seen any cockroaches running around the kitchen, it's safe to eat.

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  1. identicon
    Celes, 19 Dec 2007 @ 4:25pm

    Something else that bugs me about user reviews is when you get to one of those sites that doesn't require a user to post an actual review in order to rate a product (in which case the overall rating is often quite different than what you find yourself reading). People think nothing of rating something a 4/5 or 5/5 without saying anything helpful about it.

    Also, ordinary people are much more likely to post a review when they've had problems with something than they are when they really liked it, unless they've got a good amount of free time.

    These phenomena go for both products and services. I work in a hotel and many weeks we get good overall satisfaction scores, but the only people who actually add comments are those who had a problem.

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