How the internet changed reviews

and why reviews are more powerful now

One of the unexpected consequences of the internet boom is that the independent review has suddenly found its rightful importance. Before reviews were done by such magazines as ‘Consumer Report’ and ‘Which’. These magazines carried authority but were only read by a small number of people. The fact that the magazines are not free stops most people from reading the reviews in the printed media.

Moreover, publishers are apt to be masters of quoting out of context in order to turn a negative review into a positive one. In the early 1990s before the internet became really widespread people had to purchase a lot more on faith than they do today.

It is possible nowadays to access so much information about a product or service. The company website can be checked out and then it is possible to go to Amazon and read reviews written mostly by genuine customers. The comments are not censored – the good, the bad and the misspelled are all to be found on the many pages devoted to reviews on Amazon.

And then there are forums. Specialized forums such as, for example, food benefits allow people to post questions that a community interested in a specific topic can attempt to answer.

The internet is the most open place for information in the world – it is another world. And it is now difficult for manufacturers and companies to hide the faults of their products. People are going to read about some design problem or inbuilt obsolescence and they are going to take their consumer dollar elsewhere. This is a better form of oversight than most countries provide – especially those countries where the notion of deregulation is held up as being sacrosanct.

There are only two problems with reviews on the internet. One is that some of them are obviously bogus and others are not obviously bogus. It is often the case that the first reviews on many lists (especially for hostels and resorts) are written by the new management over keen to get the ball rolling. Looking for nationalities and spelling and grammar mistakes can also give you clues to the legitimacy of a review. I usually look for common themes. If the comment ‘the toilet was dirty’ or words to that effect are repeated down the page then alarm bells should start ringing.

The final thing that slightly distorts the level playing field that internet reviews provide is ‘Google’. Over 75% of internet users use the Google search engine and have no idea that they are being tracked by cookies. Google tries to anticipate your needs and pushes some sites at you. What you see as the first page on a search from is not the same as the man in the house next to you. The power of Google to control information by their own criteria is a form of monopoly that is insidious and not discussed enough in reviews.