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Putting A Face On Consumer Product Reviews

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Web 2.0 is an honor system where everyone expects the crowd to be noble and then becomes angry at the reality of honor systems. Anonymity is a ski mask for drive-by commentators. Though a rude blog comment is often nothing more than cursing behind the windshield, when the road-raged driver becomes a crusader outside your storefront, it’s serious.

Sony-owned Grouper Inc. recently announced an agreement to add user-generated video product reviews to Buy.com, a pioneering concept in the world of e-commerce. Grouper’s founder, Josh Felser said it was to allow shoppers to have more dynamic dialogue about the products available at the site.

But that’s not why it’s pioneering. As video on the Web becomes more prevalent, this type of offering helps remove anonymity, making responsibility less diffuse among the crowd.

Though consumer-generated product reviews have the benefit of keeping businesses, as one business owner told the San Francisco Chronicle, “A+ on the ball all the time,” the anonymous nature of text reviews is ripe for gaming.

Competitors can gut your reputation. Sales teams can artificially pump up their own product reviews. The Wall Street Journal reports that unfavorable consumer reviews in the real estate market can sink a home’s value. Sometimes, the negative review that is driving off so many would be homeowners is posted by an interested party wanting to buy that home at a discount.

And let’s not get back into the periodic resurfacing of the online lynch mob that is the blogosphere.

The wisdom of crowds is a paper boat; it floats for a time and then it is ruined. The Internet A-list props up the collective as the only true democracy just as the collective proves a millennia-old point – singularly faceless, we are invulnerable and reckless; collectively faceless, we are immortal and cruel.


But a face can solve that. Grouper says the video functionality they’ve produced is based on a simple one-click WebCam technology, no software download required. The videos will be reviewed before posting, which can control for the online prankster.

“Interactive comments and discourse will result in more informed purchase decisions and happier consumers,” said Felser.

And they’ll be able to see whom they’re talking to, judging their comments from nonverbal cues. What’s more, a saboteur is easily outed and the crowd has responsibility returned to it.

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