Eliminating Fake Reviews (thank goodness)

I watched with interest the NBC Nightly News last evening as Lester Holt reported about a big lawsuit. Amazon is making giant waves by suing over 1,000 people for offering to write fake product reviews on the site in exchange for monetary compensation. This is the first time a website that relies on this type of user generated content has ever done such a thing.

Over two years ago, I wrote extensively about how much I appreciate crowd-sourced review sites, especially TripAdvisor and Yelp. Now 30 months later my gratitude has not changed. Although I reference Yelp much more these days, I still hold both sites in high regard. The service provided is just so useful and relevant when it comes to everyday decisions.

I applaud Amazon for making the move to sue these folks who write fake reviews. For those new to this story, these review posers are running their scam on Fiverr. Yep, that other site that I also still hold in high regard. These people are so bold that on their Fiverr accounts they straight up say they will write a fake review for $5. Actually, saying the word “write” is giving them way too much credit. Often they will just ask the other schmuck scheming for fake praise to write the review on his or her own. The scammer will then just copy the content and paste it from his own account.

The main reason why Amazon is making this move, and the top point of joy for many users, is to prevent against fraud. It is unfair for sellers, businesses, destinations, etc. to enhance their presence on crowd-sourced review sites via bogus reviews. It is unethical to trick folks into buying a product or booking a hotel room because of scribble that someone wrote who had never used the watch or stayed at the Comfort Suites in Greensboro. Unfortunately for the cheats trying to make $5 at a time, the major company is coming after them instead of the groups who actually pay to have the deed done.

I personally don’t care who Amazon is going after, both sides are dishonest. However, I have a different source of happiness from the lawsuits, one that is different from what the media is glorifying. For me personally, I am ecstatic that spam on these sites is about to be dramatically reduced.

For people who check these websites frequently or who just have a good degree of common sense, the fake reviews stick out like a sore thumb. Last night on the Nightly News Report, Lester Holt gave some guidelines on how to spot a fake review. It was Stating the Obvious 101. If you visit Yelp or hop on Amazon you can pretty much tell after glancing at the structure of the comment and reading the first sentence whether it is garbage or not. The vague language, lack of voice, and broken language always give it away. It can work the other way too. I laugh at the comments that are so descriptive they practically name every member of the hotel staff or recite full conversations with the waiter. Immediately you know it was someone from the inside who wrote it.

It is not that I will ever be tricked by these pathetic reviews, it is just that they are popping up more and more that it becomes very annoying. These fake testimonials (which I just call spam) can give someone just looking for an honest appraisal a headache. I am glad that Amazon is going to begin the big clean up. I hope the other sites do the same. Don’t Blink.

Do Your Research

These days I really don’t think there is an excuse to check into a hotel, go out to eat at a restaurant, or have a drink at a bar without having a general idea on what you are getting yourself in to. With the proliferation of the internet, blogging, and social media, you can now get a comprehensive review on any place before you invest in it. In my opinion, this is a great thing.

When planning a trip, I feel you are a fool if you don’t thoroughly research all your options before booking. While ten years ago you would have to rely on travel books and word of mouth, in today’s modern age you have access to thousands of reviews on single places right at your fingertips. Making matters even better, most of the reviews are written not by the snobby professional reviewer who probably has standards that differ dramatically from yours but rather from someone who you can relate to much better…the average traveler/diner like yourself.

On the internet you can find numerous review sites that cover every hotel, restaurant, bar, venue, resort, ice cream shop, theme park, transportation system, bowling alley, miniature golf course, etc. For me, I find these reviews very useful. When I do travel out of town, I like to have a somewhat decent idea of where to go and what to do. Although I admit that sometimes I like to walk totally blind into a place with no preconceived notions, most of the time I like to know what I can expect. As I said, the internet is filled to the brim with reviewing sites and blogs dedicated to informing people on the finer points of every business out there so it is kind of easy to get overwhelmed. Because of this, I typically narrow my research to a couple of sites.

I rely on TripAdvisor and Yelp to give me a good idea on what places to go to and what places to avoid. Both sites are well-known and very well-funded and have millions of users. I utilize TripAdvisor mainly for hotel reviews while I use Yelp for all dining and entertainment options.

These sites are so great because of the honest reviews and the specific detail that is available. I can type in the name of a hotel in to TripAdvisor and instantly I will have 10,934 reviews discussing the place. After reading about ten of them, I have a comprehensive summary on the hotel. I immediately know everything about the front desk service, the location, the restaurant/lounge, the pool, the elevators, the rooms, the bathrooms, the noise level, the parking, the lobby environment, the amenities, and so much more. Additionally, you also get access to tons of pictures taken by the people writing the reviews. This goes a long way for me. I will take a quick iPhone snap shot of someone’s dirty room over a professional, hotel choreographed photograph any day to get an idea of what a place is really like.

Yelp is very similar in the format/wealth of information available as TripAdvisor but it just covers a wider area. I use Yelp especially for restaurants and anything that I may be visiting or using while traveling. Just as with TripAdvisor, the quantity of reviews is significant and very detailed.

A positive about TripAdvisor and Yelp is that both sites are extremely accepted amongst travelers. Not only do customers/clients of hotels and restaurants use these sites before deciding where to spend their money, but the hotels and restaurants use them themselves to see what people are saying about their businesses AND to respond to the reviews. Many businesses watch these sites like hawks and make sure to provide instant response the second a review pops up. If the review is good, the business will thank the person for writing. If the review is bad, the business will respond with an apology and then an explanation for the negative experience or a promise to get the problem fixed. This is another measuring tool I use when making my travel decisions. If I look up a hotel on TripAdvisor and I see that the management is responding and interacting with past customers, I am more likely to stay at their hotel because I know they care about the people who are staying with them and also care about what is said about them.

As with any website, there are a couple drawbacks to these review-centered forums. Yes, some reviews are completely fabricated and not written by an actual customer. It is well documented that some businesses have employees write sparkling reviews for their own properties while also having them write scathing, ugly reviews for competitors. Sadly, some businesses also bribe actual guests to write favorable reviews in exchange for discounts/goods/comps. Also, as is typical on the internet, there are just a lot of dumb people in general who “contribute” to the discussion. These dumb people include those who can’t spell past a third grade level, those who can’t express criticism in a half way professional manner, those who can’t articulate thoughts in a logical flow, and those who you can tell complain about every single detail regardless of it is warranted or not.

But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. For the most part, the sketchy reviews are vastly outnumbered by the honest, thoughtful reviews. Confession time for me: I used to write reviews for TripAdvisor. However, after I started my own blog I decided to devote all of my writing and reviews to Don’t Blink. With that said though, I can attest to the valuable tool that TripAdvisor is and I can vouch for the fact that there are lots of decent, helpful people who contribute to TA and the other review sites.

We live in the information age and it applies to all aspects of life, including lodging, dining, and entertainment. Most of us work hard for our money and there is no reason why we shouldn’t spend it in a way that will return to us the best experience possible. Review focused sites enable us to do just that. Make sure to do your research! Don’t Blink.