Why reviews are kind of worthless

I’ve done a few reviews in my time, but it’s not something I’m really into. I look at reviews as being recommendations–here’s why you should or shouldn’t try/buy this service/product–and that’s great, but some just strike me as a bit… odd. There’s certainly validity in writing game, movie, or food reviews, because you can try something and then let other people know if they should spend their time and/or money on it as well. But sometimes, I don’t think writing a review is a good first step.

In this case, I’m talking about food reviews. You visit a restaurant and dislike it, so you write a review about it. That’s all fine and well–you’ve let other people know that it’s not worth their money–but maybe the restaurant just needs to change a few things. Sure, maybe they’ll change when/if they read the review, but by then the damage is done.

It’s sort of like when you find a major bug or exploit for a software program. Writing a review (or expose, or hacker’s how-to, or whatever) that talks about this is where we get “zero day exploits.” These are things that came to light with no forewarning and no opportunity for the software company to fix them. Now everyone knows about them and the company has to get a patch out as soon as possible to correct this horrible problem.

A better tack to take is to contact the company and say, “Hey, I found this exploit and you ought to fix it. In fact, I’d be happy to help you fix it if you want.” If they refuse to fix it, sure, out them: post it for all the world to see. But they should at least be given a chance.

Writing a negative review of a restaurant is like posting a zero day exploit. Maybe no one has ever shared these frustrations with them honestly, or maybe they just haven’t realized the problem. Working in Computer Services at Missouri State University, we regularly have recommendations brought to us that we just never thought of–we work so closely with our environment and systems that it’s hard to step back and see something that needs changed. When someone makes a good recommendation, though, we work to implement it. We often have conversations of, “That’s a great idea, why aren’t we doing that? Let’s do it!”

Instead of writing negative reviews, we ought to contact an establishment to let them know our concerns. The problem is that you can’t sell those communications. You can’t get page hits with no content. At best, your write-up would be delayed by weeks or months, and at worst you’d never write anything because there’s nothing left to write. You may not even want to post something about working with the company because it would still give a negative impression of them and harm your relationship with that company.

In the end, I think a lot of negative reviews exist to generate discussion, page hits, and attention. They’re definitely still valuable–I don’t want to go someplace that sucks–but I don’t think they’re as valuable as helping someplace improve.

One thought on “Why reviews are kind of worthless

  1. The other issues with reviews – as I think you allude to – is their temporal nature. I just got done writing an article reviewing some CMS options, with the full realization that in 6 months time and after another version release for any of the options reviewed, my comments may not be representative of a typical experience anymore. They may not be representative of a typical experience now.

    Yet, I think that reviews can be looked at as a sort of onion skin over time. Perhaps a service/store/product is awesome now, but maybe that wasn’t always the case. Maybe it used to be much better than it is now. Reviews can allow readers to infer the history of the item in review and then make judgments on where it is going based on where it has been.

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