Monday, June 22, 2015

Customer reviews on the internet are completely over

In 2010, my hero Prince was ridiculed for making the following decree:
"The internet is completely over"
He was speaking specifically about the internet as it pertains to services like iTunes as platforms for artists to release new music and be compensated fairly, and he was right. He wasn't talking about the actual, entire internet and everything on it, but another area he could have been talking about, because he would have been right again, is customer reviews.

Customer reviews on the internet are completely over.

There was a time when these were some of the very best things about the internet. A new restaurant opens in town. Is it any good? Did the newspaper review it? Do I trust their opinion? Do I know anybody who has actually been there? Do I want to just take a chance and find out on my own? Too many questions. Ta-DA! Customer reviews from the internet to the rescue!
That was a handy resource for a little while. You could turn to nice, normal people with good intentions who wanted to share their honest experiences and informed opinions and help you make a decision. Then something changed. Now all review pages look like this (for a Mexican restaurant down the street from where I live):
That's because people who post reviews have become self-aware and realize that they actually wield a measure of influence, that there were people out there paying attention to what they had to say. This teeny, tiny bit of power feels good, but it isn't enough. It's never enough. They want, desire and crave more of it. And since there's nothing to be gained by playing right down the middle and it's impossible to type louder than somebody else, they have resorted to extremes in order to continue to draw attention. Things that are good have become "amazing!" or "awesome!" or simply "the best". Things that aren't as good "suck" or are simply "the worst". Many of these people are of the mindset that their praise can turn a struggling enterprise into a goldmine while their condemnation can turn that same enterprise into a smoking crater.
Misguided belief in outdated idiom that The Customer is Always Right + Anonymity = Internet reviewer
And sometimes, lots of times, if there are enough of them, that turns out to be true. But what about the poor, prospective customer seeking nothing more than a pleasant evening out eating some decent Mexican food? Now that sucker has to decide to weigh the risk/reward factor. Will I have a gastrointestinal experience that borders on multi-orgasmic or the culinary equivalent of being raped and then buried alive in an unmarked grave? Of course the two extremes cancel each other out and we remain at square 1. Sure, we could do some research on the background of the individual reviewers, see which ones are credible, which ones are cranks and/or if their tastes are similar to ours and base our choices on that data. But at that point, it becomes a project and who has time to take on another project?
Sweet Christ, all I want is to eat some good this.
So what happens? Well, what generally happens is we pathetic shmucks resort to what's worked for us in the past: Did the newspaper review it? Do I trust their opinion? Do I know anybody who has actually been there? I guess I'll just take a chance and find out on my own.

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