I have written on this blog before about reviewing products sold on various websites, though this post is mainly about Amazon.
I have always been keen to write reviews when requested. Not only on the Amazon site, but on ebay too, and some others. I always believed that it was of use to potential purchasers, to give them your view about the quality of a product that they were considering, as well as opinions on books, films, and music. This might be helpful, but it also gives you a chance to develop a particular writing skill, that of describing something in a comparatively short article, making you think about being concise, informative, and to the point. If others benefit from your insight, or experience, then so much the better. If they decide not to read your review, or to disagree with what you say after reading, then that is their choice. Once you have done this a hundred or more times, you begin to develop a knack for it, and you soon find it relatively easy to fully evaluate something, considering value, quality, and originality.
On some sites, you may decide to review only one or two things. If as a consequence, hundreds of people agree with your verdict, or inform the site that they found your work useful, then you can quickly be elevated to the status of a ‘top reviewer’. A good example of this, is a user guide/review, that I published on ebay, over five years ago. It concerned a Humax PVR Freeview recorder. Of the 28 people who read it, 27 clicked the link that declared it to be useful. As a result of this single paragraph, I became a ‘Top 5,000’ reviewer on ebay, a placing I still have today, for what that is worth, of course. On another site, you might write hundreds of appraisals, yet if nobody reads them, and few agree with them, then you will achieve no ‘rank’ whatsoever. When I started reviewing things I had bought from Amazon, I was completely unaware how this worked, and carried on sending in reviews, blissfully ignorant of the ‘system’ that was developing.
Fast forward to last year, and I was asked to participate in the Amazon Vine programme, where we are given free stuff, and asked to try it, and to submit balanced reviews. This is obviously for the benefit of the companies concerned, but you can publish bad reviews if you see fit, and you get to keep the goods; anything from an unpublished book, to large electrical items. It was offered to me, as I was a fairly high-ranking reviewer, comfortably in the top 3,000, which came as something of a surprise to me. This may not seem much, but Amazon is a huge world-wide organisation, after all. This made me interested in how I had arrived there, and I began to look back over my own reviews. They were mainly of films on DVD, as I had purchased hundreds over the years.
Under each review is a yes/no button, where the reader can choose to vote as to whether or not the information was of help to them. Many of my reviews carried the feedback information that this number out of so many had found this useful, or that none out of so many had. This seemed to have no pattern. Many had never been commented on, and some showed figures of only one or two positives, with the occasional negative. Every now and again, I would see something like ’24 out of 24 found this review helpful’. It was this kind of statistic that had advanced me through the ranks, over the years.
However, since being shown on the site as a ‘Vine Voice’, the level of negative reviews has increased disproportionately, and my ‘ranking’ has gone down, not up. Some of this can be explained by things like fans of a singer disagreeing with my criticism of their latest record, and voting accordingly. I accept that if I review a film, and give it five stars, others may think that level of praise excessive, and vote that this was not helpful to them. I thought little more about it, and carried on reviewing, watching my positive outcomes dwindling. Amazon, for their part, did not rescind my membership of the Vine programme, so they were obviously content with what I was doing.
One day recently, I happened to look at a forum thread about Vine reviews, and read something that I found almost unbelievable. Reading on, more and more forum contributors were saying the same thing, so I began to work out that it really was happening. It seems that some reviewers, so jealous of their placings, and supposed status, are scanning the reviews of others in the higher ranks. They then vote ‘no’ to every review that the others have published, which lowers that person’s figures, but keeps them at or near the top. I cannot imagine anything sadder, or more meaningless, in the closeted world of Internet reviewers. In some cases, they not only vote no, but also add unconstructive, or spiteful comments, demeaning the published review even further, in the eyes of a new reader. In addition to these personal campaigns, it would also seem that some companies actually employ people to do the same thing, to avoid their products getting a bad reputation.
I must say here, that I have no direct evidence that this has happened to me, and that this is not a criticism of Amazon, as they just make the platform available to others, presumably with good intentions. But I was saddened to read of this happening, as it is another example of a use of the Internet to seek fame and favour, displaying greed and nastiness, instead of cooperation and community.