Monday, October 5, 2009

On the Internet, Everyone's a Critic But They're Not Very Critical

Average Review Is 4.3 Out of Five Stars; Jerkface Fights Back and Gets Bounced

Mr. Luster is part of a movement on the Web that's taking aim at 4.3, a figure reported as the average by companies like Bazaarvoice Inc., which provides review software used by nearly 600 sites. Inc. says its average is similar.
Many companies have noticed serious grade inflation. Google Inc.'s YouTube says the videos on its site average 4.6 stars, because viewers use five-star ratings to "give props" to video makers., which aggregates reviews from 3,000 sites, has tracked millions of reviews and has spotted particular exuberance for products such as printer paper (average: 4.4 stars), boots (4.4) and dog food (4.7).

Culture may play a role in the positivism: Ratings in the U.K. average an even higher 4.4, reports Bazaarvoice. But the largest contributor may be human nature. Marketing research firm Keller Fay Group surveys 100 consumers each week to ask them about what products they mentioned to friends in conversation. "There is an urban myth that people are far more likely to express negatives than positives," says Ed Keller, the company's chief executive. But on average, he finds that 65% of the word-of-mouth reviews are positive and only 8% are negative.

The vast majority of reviewers on Amazon "are a bunch of brown-nosing cheerleaders," says Mr. Schenker, who reviews under pseudonyms including Jerkface. "In an online store selling millions of items, there's bound to be many, many awful ones," he says.

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