It’s an odd feeling. I love to give advice but it’s seldom listened to or taken seriously. Certainly NEVER by my children; they always know better than the old man. Once I was on my high horse about colonoscopies and how they prevent cancer by the identification and excision of developing colonic polyps while still in their precancerous early stages. Of course, I didn’t have to describe the whole gross process of the colonoscope slithering through semisolid resident intestinal contents while travelling the length of the colon, identifying polys, lassoing them and then snip snip. But that is just me; graphic and a little vulgar! So I was truly amazed when an unsuspecting tennis friend who was forced to endure my colon rant then later took my advice. His gastroenterologist found a large polyp that was cancerous but contained within its boundaries and the procedure of removal cured the problem and prevented the spread of this localized cancer to the adjacent bowel. He had no idea how lucky he was, but even I was surprised by the lack of appreciation shown me for my act of brilliance.
So why all of a sudden does everyone want to know what I think? My God, its review frenzy! No act of life now goes unnoticed. If I call the airlines, they want to administer a one-question survey. If I buy anything from Amazon, I get emails prompting me into writing a review. Tripadvisor gives out phony badges and rewards you with status for your reviews of hotels, places of interest, travel tours, etc. I go to the doctor and soon thereafter I get a document in the mail to fill out regarding my experience and customer service. I can go on and on. No one cared what I thought before, but everyone is now totally overjoyed whenever I write a review. But what is the purpose? Who does it benefit? Does anyone really care what I think? And should I be rewarded by something more substantial than just a thank you or some phony badges?
Of course, this review panic attack has been made possible by social media and the Internet. How many people now search the web for anything and everything from anywhere around the globe and then look for reviews to guide them in making a decision? Buy something from Amazon; you scan the 5 star reviews as well as those that are 1 star. Watch a movie on Netflix? Who doesn't look at the reviews? Book a hotel, TripAdvisor gives you the lowdown with probably the greatest concentration of reviews present anywhere. Not satisfied, look at yuppie obsessed Yelp, the reviews found on other third party websites, or the specific website itself. The truth is that good reviews mean more business and bad reviews are a recipe for disaster and loss of potential income. But are all reviews equal? Are all reviews fair? Are all reviews authentic? And how do the reviews play into the hands of the proprietor of the business or service? These are all questions that would take more than a short blog to properly address. So I will stick to venting my gripes and some free associations that immediately come to mind when assaulted with another request for a review, rather than pretending to be an expert in the field.
First the positive……as a world traveler of sorts, I find that the choices in products, services, and places that I have made based on my analysis of available reviews is uniformly positively predictive. That is to say that the reviews presented an accurate and complete picture of the vendor or product under consideration and that there were few surprises. This is startling good news but I’m bound to get burned sooner or later. The point here is that you have to really spend the time to carefully read what is said to filter out reviews that are patently biased, petty or over exuberant. You also have to read enough reviews to get a sense of consistency which maybe the strongest proof of authenticity available. Clearly I can register the tone of a review when it smells petty and seemingly unfair or one that is so over the top with accolades that it lacks any sense of equipoise. So it takes a little talent and concentration to filter all of the muck out of the reviews for any given entity, but taking the time is truly worth the effort.
And while I was not previously motivated to contribute myself, the fact that I have benefited so vastly from the responsible reviews published by others is the strongest motivator for me to contribute to this process. Not just take, but give and take. I suppose this is what motivates others, although other factors present in the human spirit dictate the propensity to publish words of perceived wisdom from the world of thinking minds versus those that are taciturn and want to keep their thoughts buried within. And of course words of wisdom as viewed by some are verbal diarrhea to others, and that’s why ladies and gentlemen, there are democrats and republicans!!! Although presently both parties are equally flooding the airways with the stench of their diarrhea, but let us not get too far off course.
Add to this a growing request/badgering insistence and pressure by vendors for their patrons to submit favorable reviews contribute another level of uncertainty over the legitimacy of the resultant reviews. Some folks are generous with their reviews because they do not want to do any harm, others are very picky and combative in their notions of right and wrong and harmful from the start. Some like me give vendors the benefit of the doubt in terms of scoring but write in criticisms that are understated but nevertheless significant. The message here is to really read the reviews not just factor the overall scores into your final assessment. There are many vagaries and quirks that play into the genesis of any review even when there is genuine intent to accurately depict ones experience. But legitimate customers are not the only ones that send in reviews. Thus, weeding those from others submitted by totally biased family members or business partners is undoubtedly a daunting task for enterprises like TripAdvisor or Yelp.
Personally, I have been writing more reviews of late. I really don’t mind writing a review for an experience and/or product that is exceptional…it brings me joy. But I don’t generally want to review vendors that are just adequate but nothing special…its not worth my time and effort. And I’m also reluctant to write reviews that are totally damning reflecting a totally negative experience. The day will come... I expect that I will write these types of reviews but for now, I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Really the reason I am writing this blog is to call attention to the evident transformation, occurring rapidly over the last few years, of the amazing deluge in review requests that the public has been subjected to. It has not gone unnoticed to me, and I continue to question its intent and usefulness. It can truly contribute greatly to the information database for the public to use when making decisions. But it can also be used to wrongfully harm someone if the powers that be intend this from the get-go. There are many potential scenarios I could present that would prove this, but I beg you to consider this possibility on your own time.
The fact is that our reviews are important if done with good intent in mind. You reward those who are doing a good job, you steer potential patrons in the right direction, and you discourage others in repeating a negative experience that you have encountered. It truly puts pressure on the vendor to perform to the best of their ability or suffer the consequence of a mediocre or bad review. In this respect it is all-good. But at the same time, there is lot of work involved in writing responsible reviews and I am left wondering how this transformation will evolve over the next decade.
Will we be so inundated by review request that the public will rebel? Would a sophisticated software-modeling program analyze reviewers to determine their credibility as reviewers? Would they be assigned yearly rankings and credentials? Will this process lead to some sort of payment for certain credentialed reviewers? Will these same reviewers be given greater attention by the vendor and better than usual service than given the rest of the public? This of course would make their reviews null and void. I have many questions but few answers.
All I know is that I can’t turn the corner without someone, something, an email, an automated phone call, a snail mail request, or a verbal communication requesting some sort of feedback and/or review for something experienced. Honored at first, the deluge of requests has generated a visceral reflex reaction in me much like the one to professional beggars on the street asking me for spare change. But that’s just me………..