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Amazon: Authors Can't Review Books 248

In an effort to step up its fight against astroturfers, Amazon has barred authors from reviewing books. It's not simply that authors can't review their own books — they can't review any book in a similar genre to something they've published. "This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books. Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels." British author Joanne Harris had a simpler solution in mind: "To be honest I would just rather Amazon delete all their reviews as it... has caused so much trouble. It is a pity. Originally it was a good idea but it is has become such an issue now. The star rating has become how people view if a book is a success and it has become inherently corrupt." How would you improve the online review system?
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Amazon: Authors Can't Review Books

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:45PM (#42397789)

    Provide Data on the Poster rating based on the Star System and give an average and/or a list of all the Posters star reviews to provide a balance. This way you can see if a particular poster is always picking 1 star for anything or not.

  • by mozumder ( 178398 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:48PM (#42397813)

    There is absolutely no value in having random people review things. Criticism isn't a democratic principle.

    Reviews are only valid from people that maintain that as their profession. There is a level of experience that comes with reviewing and editing that can't be achieved casually. Even many professional critics don't have this skills.

    In each field, there are only a few peoples opinions that matter. The rest can be determined by demographic sampling.

  • by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:54PM (#42397875) Journal
    You are obtuse.
  • by Mitreya ( 579078 ) <mitreya&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:54PM (#42397883)

    Reviews are only valid from people that maintain that as their profession. There is a level of experience that comes with reviewing and editing that can't be achieved casually.

    I assume you mean "things like books", because if I am buying a mouse, non-professional reviews are highly valid. Perhaps more so than professional ones.

    Even for books (movies, etc), I am a tad suspicious of "professional" bullet by bullet reviews. I think there is a higher chance that the professional reviewer has been somehow bribed. Personally, If I were to hire astroturfers, I'd reach out to the professional reviewers first, even if it cost more.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:56PM (#42397905) []

    This has often reflected my experience an any online store (and for anything, not just books). People don't seem to employ much perspective when assigning an overall rank. I recently saw a one star rank given to an app where the review stated the app did exactly what it was supposed to do... but he wasn't happy a particular feature wasn't present.

  • by SkyLeach ( 188871 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:58PM (#42397931) Homepage

    This is idiotic at best, blatantly bigoted at worst. Collective reviews are changing the dynamic of consumer reporting. The only time that reviews wind up being skewed and unreliable is when something hasn't really been sampled and reviewed by many people.

    Consider Google Maps reviews on restaurants. As a consumer I have found them highly valuable in avoiding restaurants that are poorly run and provide substandard food. The same is true for products that I should avoid on Amazon and other online retailers.

    I do find that the higher the degree of intelligence and education required to understand and appreciate a product (examples: a book or technical item) the more it seems that the reviews are skewed by the individual competence of the reviewer,but that doesn't make the reviews worthless merely potentially misleading.

    When I am reading consumer reviews of products, especially, movies, books and games/apps, I take this into consideration and look for telltale signs of ignorance in the review itself.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:00PM (#42397961)

    1. Professional reviewers are often more biased than unprofessional reviewers, due to being bought out. I don't know about the literary field, but it happens a lot in gaming. Every other new episode of unoriginal Call of Duty crap gets upwards of 90%. Even if you think it's a decent game, there's no way it deserves such a high score.
    2. You want demographic sampling? An average score from many unqualified reviews is the best sampling you can get for free, funnily enough. So by your own standard, reviews by random people are useful.

    There are always people on review sites who post more than everyone else. I've heard of people find a few amateur reviewers like that with whom they mostly agree with, and just look up their reviews whenever a new product comes up. Some of these reviewers make their home on Youtube rather than Amazon. You may not agree with the most popular ones, but I am sure there are some out there who share your views.

  • by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:02PM (#42397975)
    You couldn't have picked a worse example than the restaurant industry for online reviews, the only people that write online reviews for those are the pissed off customer type, same deal as most bbb reviews. Good service is tipped for, bad service prompts a user review online typically. So you get all the people who didn't get good service writing reviews, even if it's .01%.
  • by cod3r_ ( 2031620 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:02PM (#42397983)
    Like ban them from Amazon reviews forever. So the next time someone posts a 1 star review because the editor didn't catch a comma or the kindle version is not formatted perfectly for the very first kindle device ever made.. I think it would clean it up some.
  • by Elbereth ( 58257 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:10PM (#42398075) Journal

    You are obtuse.

    Not obtuse. Just an elitist. Elitism isn't always a bad thing, in my opinion, but it does lead you to discount the usefulness of user-submitted content, even when that content is quite useful. The IMDB, Wikipedia, Newegg, and Amazon can be tremendously useful, as long as you keep in mind their limitations and drawbacks. Elitists can't see anything but the limitations and drawbacks, while populists refuse to admit there are any.

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:12PM (#42398107) Journal

    "Reviews are only valid from people that maintain that as their profession"

    Reviews are only valid if the reviewer is professional? Obtuse. I don't generally value the opinions of people paid to have opinions, because I've found that they are generally (as a group) a prostitute in disguise. Please note: there are exceptions, though I can't think of any off the top of my head.

    The best reviews* are done by average public, because they skip all the "nuanced" verbiage of opinion writers and say it like it is.

    *50 Shades fans excluded, because they are a brain damaged lot.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:17PM (#42398147) Homepage

    I wouldn't say that reviews from random people have no value. But their value is less than that of reviews that have been... reviewed. By someone known to have no reason to scam the system. That's the role that editors used to perform, back when reviewers were professionals who wrote for publications. The New York Times didn't just take open submissions, screen them for profanity and advertising, and print them all; they selected reviewers who demonstrated that they were knowledgeable, fair, and helpful, and only published those reviews. If you wanted to know which books were merely popular... that's what the "bestseller" list was for.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:17PM (#42398151)
    My beef with that idea is that Amazon has become the default place to read reviews of products - few if any other places have critical mass. So, yes, I have read reviews on Amazon for purchases I ended up making elsewhere, and (more to the point) left reviews for things I purchased elsewhere. If I left my gripe (I mean, review) elsewhere, nobody would have read it, whereas I really hoped the company would feel some pressure to fix the problems and release a software update if they saw they were losing stars on Amazon.

    For popular products there are enough reviewers that it doesn't matter, but it's for less popular products where it can be harder to find reviews that having them collected at a single site is really useful.

  • by obarel ( 670863 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:20PM (#42398167)

    Usually 1 stars are "Didn't receive the item. Contacted seller but got no response (it's been more than 24 hours since I ordered the product). Very disappointed."

  • Re:Karma Whoring. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <> on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:35PM (#42398299) Homepage
    You are mistaken as to the purpose on those limits on when you can moderate. It turns the ability to moderate into a prized capability, to be used with care. Otherwise you'd have people (and bots) moderating every single message in a thread. Here I guess the goal is to have an average of ONE moderation per post. Some highly noticeable posts will get more but anything above 5 is normally useless (unless they are contradictory). Makes sense to me and indeed the result is a lot cleaner than all the forums who allow unlimited moderation.

    Now if only /. would fix their metamoderation which's been broken for the last few years...

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @06:08PM (#42398599)

    The best reviews* are done by average public, because they skip all the "nuanced" verbiage of opinion writers and say it like it is.

    I have to disagree - the average public are barely qualified to review anything beyond saying that it's garbage/adequate. Even then there's plenty of people who are apparently incapable of reading the product description before purchase and then give horrible reviews because their new pizza slicer makes a lousy HDTV antenna. Or down-rate a product because the particular supplier they purchased from took six weeks to deliver it, or the UPS guy decided to play street hockey with the box, etc.

    Ideally you'd pick out the reviews by people that actually have something worthwhile to say and give them a higher weight - which will typically be those from people with some expertise in the product domain (but not too much). Tech reviews from IT folk will probably give you the best idea of how well a device's functionality and reliability stacks up against the competition, but probably won't tell you much about whether the Average Joe will be able to do anything with it. Amazon currently does something like that with the "most helpful" reviews, but it's not hard to find examples of "helpful" reviews written by people who obviously have no idea what they're talking about, and I don't think it has any effect on the star rating.

    Allowing meta-reviews of reviewers by which to weight their comments might help, but most such mechanisms seem to favor the loudest voices, whereas the best voices to listen to are often the ones that only speak up only rarely, when they have something particularly significant to say. I'd think an automated system to recognize and highlight those voices would be quite challenging to develop, but worthwhile in many venues (perhaps it could be profitably applied to political discourse? Seems like the ideological blowhards are the only ones who currently get much of an audience)

  • by Stiletto ( 12066 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @01:27AM (#42401611)

    You've made my point for me better than I could.

    It may not have been your intention to review Dairy Queen, but the above rant reads an awful lot like many (most) user-generated reviews out there. It was a nit-picky anecdote, which told the reader nothing about the quality of the food, the price, the setting, etc. Just one person's isolated bad experience with the restaurant owner. I give it a 99% chance that if I happen to walk into that Dairy Queen, I won't even know who the manager, let alone have an altercation with him.

    Most "one star" amateur online reviews are grumpy customers who want to stick it to the man for some perceived slight against them, not honest comprehensive assessments of the business and product. Most "five star" amateur online reviews are simply fans who personally like the business reviewed. Neither really give me an idea of what the business will be like.

    What's important is what the reader's experience will be, not what the writer's experience was. An amateur reviewer will tell me why they loved or hated something. A professional reviewer will tell me why I will love or hate it.

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin