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Krohn: Two cents worth not so valuable

“Great food, good atmosphere. Always fun!”

“There are really very few places that I will never go back to again … but (this restaurant) is on that list.”

“The decor is enjoyable, our server was very attentive, and the food was tasty.”

“The meat was either freezer burned or rotten … unedible!”

Those are all actual reviews of the same Mankato restaurant from the popular Internet review site Yelp.com.

Helpful isn’t it?

I’ve rarely found online reviews useful because there are such divergent opinions and even the overall average rating of all reviewers is suspect.

New York state officials recently busted 19 companies for paying people to write flattering but fake reviews of their businesses for Yelp and other sites.

People as far away as the Philippines and Eastern Europe were being paid $1 to $10 for each review they wrote for the businesses.

Lying to consumers isn’t just unethical, it’s actually illegal and the companies are paying a combined $350,000 fine.

Many of the big review sites have automated “lie detectors” that are supposed to watch for fake reviews, but officials say at least 20 percent of all reviews are fake.

Even many that aren’t fake, are overly generous, positive reviews. Cornell University found that more than 80 percent of all product reviews for the millions of items sold on Amazon were positive. That’s because most of the reviewers are part of a “most trusted” reviewers club for Amazon. Those special reviewers get a bunch of free products from publishers and manufacturers and — guess what — write really glowing reviews so the free stuff keeps coming.

The beauty of the Internet, and its great weakness, is that it is so democratic. Anyone can have a somewhat equal say in the marketplace of ideas and commerce. Disenfranchised rebels can use the Internet to help spur an Arab Spring that topples dictators and a guy who whittles duck calls can find a customer base.

But just as often the digital world is filled with comments and opinions from people who really shouldn’t be commenting or opinionating.

People love giving their two cents worth, not just on restaurants, but on anything on sites like Yelp and Amazon.

There’s a book for sale on Amazon with the very self-explanatory title of “How to Avoid Huge Ships” that has accumulated 555 customer reviews. Five-hundred and fifty-five.

Many of the reviews are, not surprisingly, sarcastic:

“I bought How to Avoid Huge Ships as a companion to Captain Trimmer’s other excellent titles: How to Avoid a Train, and How to Avoid the Empire State Building.”

But many of the reviews extol the book’s practical tips for the specialized audience of those who make their living in small boats:

“You all seem to think it’s funny that some people would honestly like some expert advice on ways to avoid huge ships.”

As suspect as reviews are, businesses know they influence a lot of people and they’ll keep trying to find ways to game the system.

I’ve been paying a little firm in Bangladesh 50 cents a piece to do some reviews of my work, hoping they will boost circulation here at The Free Press.

You can maybe find them on Yelp:

“Krohn Mr. a very great jouralist. Funny much.”

“Best writer for to cover big stories of news.”

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll need to pay more.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6383.

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Mystic Maggie

All of the Mystic Maggie Posts are RSS Reader Feeds from around the web. All copyright remains with the original publisher. No copyright is claimed or intended. Where supplied, links back to the original article are included.

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