February 14, 2004

Who Will Police the Police?

Or review the reviewers?

Via The Little Professor, the NYTimes reports on "something peculiar" this week at Amazon.com:

[The] company's Canadian site had suddenly revealed the identities of thousands of people who had anonymously posted book reviews on the United States site under signatures like 'a reader from New York.'

The weeklong glitch, which Amazon fixed after outed reviewers complained, provided a rare glimpse at how writers and readers are wielding the online reviews as a tool to promote or pan a book when they think no one is watching (Amy Harmon, "Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers").

Amazon does have a response to the question, Who will review the reviewers?:

To increase the credibility of the reader reviews, Amazon has introduced a means for users to vote on the quality of each review, and a corresponding ranking of the top 1,000 reviewers.

But apparently, and I suppose not surprisingly, some people are trying to game that system too.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at February 14, 2004 11:07 AM

I haven't tried looking into it systematically -- maybe because I'm afraid of what I'll see, but also because I would like to sell more of my own writing, and don't want to be accused of trying to manipulate the system myself -- but it does seem to me that the publishing industry is, if anything, more corrupt than academics, though the two work closely together. There are web sites that discuss this, I find. I ran into one via a link at Odd Lots Irregulars, but I think I forgot to record the url. It was a little too gen-x for my taste, but it did make the point that MFA programs had failed utterly to produce writers worth anything. But of course, lots of novels keep getting published and keep winning prizes. It's interesting that bloggers seem to rely on mechanisms like Site Meter, technorati, or The Truth Laid Bear's ecology as some kind of a rough achievement or progress indicator that can't be gamed as easily, whatever the specific flaws.

Posted by: John Bruce at February 14, 2004 04:06 PM

Somewhere in the back of my head - there are plenty of more pressing issues - I have been curious about the anonymous readers who review online at Amazon. Obviously I have only anecdotal evidence and little desire to find more. Some of those reviews are strange, while others are amusing. Last year, for example, I read a very interesting novel about the Crusades and was curious about its reception on Amazon. Some of the most critical comments came from so-called experts, and were people, who had either read a different book or were trying to game the market, I guess.

My question. Who takes the anonymous reviewers on Amazon.com seriously? I sure don't.

Posted by: DM at February 14, 2004 04:37 PM

Sen. Bill Frist's book about his family was gamed. It got about 50 negative reviews and two good ones, one of which was a fake by someone pretending to be Frist himself and sayinf dumb stuff.

Some reviewers identify themselves and in most or all cases you can read their previous reviews. However, nothing can be taken at face value.

Posted by: zizka / emerson at February 14, 2004 11:15 PM

"but also because I would like to sell more of my own writing"

What kind of writing do you do?

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at February 15, 2004 11:04 AM

I dunno. Coast Guard?

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at February 15, 2004 10:12 PM