Tag Archives: amazon.com

State Supreme Court Decides in Favor of Nasty Reviews

The Oregon Supreme Court just reaffirmed the legal protection of nasty Court Protects Nasty Reviewsreviews as free speech.

Which reminds me of the ongoing opportunity and problem of reviews. Amazon.com reviews, Yelp reviews, Google, TripAdvisor, and all of them are a combination of powerful, important, and yet also full of problems. Users care and we generally love the idea of picking and choosing based on what all those nice other people decided to share with us. And business owners care too, we live and die with reviews. But there is that temptation to write your own reviews, game the system, get your business five starts by hook or by crook. And there’s that related temptation to use reviews to hurt competition.

In the Oregon case from just last week, the Eugene Register Guard reported the court sides with online review writer in dispute with wedding venue owner. The issue was between wedding venue owner Carol Neumann and customer/reviewer Christopher Liles.

Two days after attending a wedding on Neumann’s property in June 2010, Liles posted to Google Reviews a highly unfavorable rundown of his experience at Dancing Deer Mountain. Titled “Disaster!!!! Find a different wedding venue,” the review called Neumann “two-faced,” “crooked” and “rude.”

Oops. Neumann sued for $7,500 in damages for defamation, and that suit was thrown out. Neumann appealed and won. The state supreme court just reversed the appeal. The Register Guard reported:

The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an online reviewer’s highly critical remarks about the wedding venue owner are protected free speech.

So reviews are protected by the first amendment. Liles’ Lawyer summarized:

Strongly stated opinions about goods and services — no matter how derogatory — are protected speech so long as such expression does not include or imply provably false statements of fact.

Interesting. And it makes sense. But I have some questions for you:

  1. How to you react to the blistering reviews that seem full of venom? I tend to discount them. I take the excess emotion as a sign that there is more there than just the words. I’m very wary of what seems like revenge reviews. I’m reminded of a seething-with-rage review of a restaurant in which the reviewer wrote “they refused to seat us because they said we were drunk.” So I don’t take that as such a negative.
  2. What do you do to deal with reviews that are written by the business owners, friends, families, and employees? Can you tell? I look for real detail and granularity to validate a review. And I also prefer places that have hundreds of reviews, rather than just a few, because it’s harder to game reviews in high volume.
  3. What do you do with reviews written in bad faith by competitors. For example, I’m pretty sure some restaurant owners write bad reviews for the restaurant across the street. How can we tell?

Classroom Kindle with Big Brother Control One-Ups iPad

Interesting post: Amazon Just Beat Apple to the Classroom, on Gizmodo. I’ve been following ebooks and textbooks for more than 10 years now, expecting disruption. Textbooks are obsolete. It should have happened years ago. And there’s a lot going on now, but classrooms are still the same. 

In this one, post author Brian Barrett starts by quoting himself from a few months back after Apple presented an iPad solution to classroom learning and textbooks. Brian said then:

Let’s be clear; this is indisputably the future. What we saw today is what our classrooms will look like once iPads are far cheaper, once digital textbooks can be handed down as easily as physical ones, once teachers of every subject have several educational material options to choose among. For now though, it’s important to remember that “new” and “different” always come at a premium. One that the vast majority of us can’t afford.

Brian says that’s as true today as it was then, but …

But look at how Amazon’s offerings have grown since then. A backpack-friendly 7-inch tablet for $160 (and E-ink technology has progressed enough that you could probably make due with a $70 entry-level model). A Kindle eTextbook service that’s ballooned to over 200,000 titles, with generous return policies and cash-saving rental options. And a platform ubiquity that ensures no kid gets left out, regardless of what device he or she owns

And then this, on Whispercast:

But today’s announcement of its Whispercast technology seems to solve problems Apple hadn’t even thought of.

 Whispercast is a free service that serves as an umbrella for many, many Kindle management features, but most of all it provides the kind of centralized control over devices that are a luxury for businesses and a necessity for schools. Content distribution, social media and purchase blockades, password protection, document sharing; there couldn’t be a more teacher-friendly checklist.

Sigh … I guess that’s good news. But it’s sad, at least in some ways, that control, blockades, and protection are barriers to better technology in schools. I can see why — lawsuits, fanatics, porn, bullying, and so forth — but still. Damn. 

(Complete aside: I like the lead from a writing point of view. Here’s Brian’s first sentence from today’s post:

On a freezing, cloudless day last January in New York, Apple presented to the world its vision for the future of education. 

The freezing cloudless day has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but it’s an interesting start.)

Tipping Point Trumps First Mover Advantage

Two interesting milestones: a note last week that Ebook Sales Surpass Hardcover in the U.S. coupled with the fact that digital music overtook physical media for the first time in 2011, something I expected since 1998. In both cases what surprises me is not that it happened, but how long it took. And what interests me is who makes the money on timing these trends. Because it sure wasn’t the first mover. 

I posted about this in Who Makes the Money on An Inevitable Shoe Dropping earlier this week on the gust.com blog. I was an early adopter in both these markets. I bought the Rocket eBook Reader in 1999. I bought the Diamond Rio mp3 player in 1998. Both products were first movers, innovative leaders, but they were brought out well before the right time. Both were discontinued years ago. And, I think but can’t prove, both were business failures. 

What does this tell about first-mover advantage? The ebook reader finally took off roughly 10 years later when Amazon.com and Apple converged on it with hardware and content. The mp3 player took off just a couple of years after the Diamond Rio. 

What happened? The tipping point happened. And the first-mover advantage didn’t. Why not? What do you think? 

I Love These 5 Use-Everywhere Apps

What makes good software? For me, the use-everywhere factor is a big deal. I work with a desktop using Windows 7, a Mac at home and a Macbook for travel, mobile phone and a tablet computer. The more my gadgets spread, the more I appreciate the apps that let me get to my workspace wherever I am. Kindle Reader

  1. Dropbox. Now the files I’m working on, like drafts of documents and slide shows, show up as part of the file system I browse on my Windows desktop and all of my Macintoshes, and are available to me on my iPad and — not that I want to use them on my mobile phone — on my phone too. Its system software manages to work into natural file browsing too, as least on a desktop in Windows or Mac. Nowadays I routinely save documents to DropBox so I can pick them up wherever I left off, from wherever I am. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t pay for my Dropbox, because they are leaving money on the table. I would pay if they made me. As it is, if I don’t use a whole computer’s worth of storage space, it’s free.
  2. Evernote. Every bit as powerful and as useful as Dropbox, which is saying a lot. I can input a note using a keyboard, a microphone, or a screen shot or website. I can get back to my notes from any computer, laptop, iPad or iPhone I use, and I think I could get it on Android as well, probably on Windows Mobile too. Type a note on the computer you’re at, and access it later when you need it. Fabulous software, and this too is free. And I’d pay for it if they made me.
  3. Kindle reader. I have the Kindle software on every device I have. I’m never caught waiting for something without immediate access to the latest book I’m reading, unless I don’t have my phone. Kindle automatically synchronizes to the last page I was reading on whatever device I was reading last. And it’s on phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops. And it’s free … although obviously I have to buy the books. Lately Kindle has also become a document manager too, so that — to cite one example — when I’m reading business plans I can load them to my Kindle and get the documents anywhere I am.
  4. Roboform. I complained three years ago when I switched to Mac at home and couldn’t get Roboform on my Macs. Now I can, and also on my iPad, and on every phone too. Roboform helps me keep track of logins and passwords, and — God help me — I sure hope it’s safe. Roboform is not free, but some of their browser add-ons are, and it’s worth a lot more than the equivalent of a good lunch, which is what they charge. I think I’m glad they charge me, and I hope they invest that in keeping up with security. They do have updates as often as any software I deal with.
  5. Things. Things, by Cultured Code, gets honorable mention here, for the new beta version that synchronizes my to-do list on iCloud so that I can access it, work with it, and massage it from my phone, iPad, laptop, or desktop Mac. That’s not the production version yet, and it doesn’t extend to Windows. But I do like it a whole lot. Things costs $49.95 and it’s worth every penny to me.

Disclosure: Last week I posted here that I didn’t post this one because there’s so much sleazy spammy tactics going on, paying bloggers for plugs, that I worried you’d think I’m doing that. I’m not. Nobody’s paying me a penny to recommend these five apps, and the ones that aren’t free — Roboform and Things — I purchased.

This is just great software. And I felt like sharing.

(Image: a screen shot from the Amazon Kindle download page.)

Reflections on Fake Reviews and Review Credibility

Last month the New York Times ran this story on fake reviews all over the web.

I was a late comer to Angie’s list. You’ve probably been using it for years, so you already know what I just discovered. It has no anonymous reviews. How refreshing. And, how much more useful.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, Angie’s List is perhaps the best known site for listing local service providers in mainstream categories like home maintenance, doctors, nurses, auto repair, and so on. I paid $12 for a year’s worth in my home town, and another $20 for a year’s worth in a second location.

And I saw immediately what should have been perfectly obvious: having no anonymous reviews makes the site way more useful than any other site I’ve dealt with that has reviews. We were looking for air conditioning, and we found that what used to be a word-of-mouth headache was suddenly pretty easy. Having all the reviews identified means I end up believing that the ones with the best reviews are the best vendors.

Do you think that’s a good bet?

I use a lot of reviews these days as I choose hotels, restaurants, and what to buy. And I discount the obvious owner reviews even more than I do the obvious disgruntled customer and/or competitor reviews. On restaurants and hotel sites, my best indicator is not how many stars, but rather how many reviews there are. The restaurant with more than a thousand reviews averaging out to four stars looks better to me than the restaurant with two reviews averaging five stars. I assume that’s the owner and a best friend.

True confession: my brother has a novel listed on amazon.com with five stars. You won’t find it if you look, because he uses a pen name; but there’s one single review for that novel, and you wouldn’t be able to tell this from the way the review is signed, and it doesn’t say it in the review, but I wrote it.

I hope more sites move away from anonymous reviews. I think that’s a great way to deal with all the gaming. If you don’t care enough to say who you are, I don’t want your opinion counted.

I hope it’s obvious to every business owner why gaming reviews is bad business ethics. And, perhaps more important, why it’s bad business: Because it’s going to come out. It will show.

Is Marketing Dead?

I’m troubled. Some of the smartest, most successful people I know say marketing is dead. It doesn’t matter, they say. It’s a waste of time. Instead…

… just build great product. Disrupt a big market. The buzz will follow.

And it makes some sense. Did Facebook care about marketing, or product? What about Twitter? Amazon.com? You could say their product was their marketing.

Which, however, is something like saying higher education is useless because Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college.

No doubt marketing is all mixed up and turned inside out these days. It’s still a strong force in big businesses with multi-million-dollar advertising budgets, but there’s this new world in which thought, content, effort and authenticity make up for money. You don’t necessarily buy attention in this new world – you can earn it instead.

But a lot of the core concepts — like understanding your target markets, and developing your main messages, and pricing as message, and managing channels – are as important as ever.

Because there are the brilliant exceptions to the rule, and then there’s the rule.

(image: igoncepts/istockphoto.com)

Torn: True Stories on Kids, Career, and Conflict of Motherhood

Today is the first day of distribution for Samatha Walraven’s book Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. I got an advance copy and it’s a good read: for working moms, of course, but also for working dads, and everybody else who cares about understanding some of the people they work with. book cover

The book is a series of chapters from contributors, which makes it a great collection of experiences and point of view. It’s about how it feels, working through the problems, dealing with guilt, the importance of choice — which includes choosing to be stay-at-home mom too, by the way; there’s a whole section of pieces from that point of view too — and similar topics.

For example, this, from a Chapter called MommyCEO, written by Sabrina Parsons, my daughter, CEO of Palo Alto Software. I’ve taken a couple of snippets from a larger paragraph, just to give you the idea:

…there are things I have to deal with in the workplace that no man will ever face. No man will ever be in his office using a breast pump during a partner call … and very few men will ever face the reality that no matter how much government protection there is for maternity and family leave, there are some jobs that don’t allow a three-month leave of absence.

And here’s one from the following page:

Last night, as I sat in my boys’ room at bedtime, I thought about how much I have on my plate, how much I am juggling, and the items that fall by the wayside: my blog, my workouts, my sleep. My wingspan is simply not wide enough. If you saw me sitting in their room, you could actually envision this ‘wingspan’ — my arms stretched out wide between my sons’ beds so they can each hold a hand as they fall asleep.

That’s just one of 50 chapters, divided into seven sections, each written by a different woman. They divide into sections on balance, guilt, the superwoman, divided lives, the stay-at-home struggle, and, last but not least: “Maybe, Baby.”

Last week I posted about entrepreneurs needing empathy. Let’s have more empathy for the working moms, and for stay-at-home moms too, when they make that choice. This is a really good book.

Want to Really Win Big? Blow Up a Market

People ask me often what kind of business to start. Usually I say something like “look in the mirror,” continuing with how the best business for you has to reflect who you are and how you’re different. But here’s a new thought for you: choose the market you’re going to disrupt.

This isn’t for the sandwich shop, graphic arts business, dry cleaner, or new restaurant. It’s for the rarified air of the big bang startup. What market doesn’t work? What market can you radically change?

If your new business blows up an old market, then you really matter. Think of Netflix, amazon.com, Google, Hulu.com, and other big winners. ZipCar. Expedia. Twitter. Facebook.

In every one of those cases, somebody applied a new way of thinking to an annoying old way of doing something.

I heard it yesterday from one of the smartest and most successful people I know, my son Paul, CTO of Huffington Media Group:

“I’ve seen the way smart investors work. If it’s a team they believe in, and they focus on a market to disrupt, it’s going to work. They’re going to get going, change it often, and make it work.”

Want to really win big? Blow up a market.

One Real Case: Does Fake Buzz Work? Do Fake Reviews Work?

Annoying, yes, but does it work? We all assume spam works because it keeps on coming, right? What about putting fake comments on blogs, faking reviews at amazon.com and elsewhere? We all hate those tactics when we see them, but the real question for today is whether or not those tactics actually work. Are the culprits better off?

Of course it’s hard as hell to get good data on a question like this, but I decided to track one case just to satisfy my curiosity.

There is a book for sale at amazon.com that was promoted last month by sneaky fake trackbacks on blogs. I’m not going to mention the book or its author because I don’t want to throw good publicity on bad.

I discovered the fake by accident. The same identical trackback appeared overnight on both of the two blogs I moderate, this one and  Up and Running. Otherwise I might have just approved without checking because it was cleverly engineered to look like a legitimate link from another blog that was discussing my post, with a generic tag line like “good discussion on this issue here.”

Because of the coincidence, I clicked the link to check it first before approving it to show up as a trackback below the post. Instead of going (like it should) to a discussion that referenced my blog post, it went straight to the sell page of the same book on amazon.com. And it’s not a book related to the subject. It’s just a book on amazon.com.

I was annoyed. I bookmarked it to check back later.

I’m happy to report it doesn’t seem to have worked very well. Six weeks later, that book is ranked 996,133 in books.

And the book has three reviews, all five-star raves. And (no surprise) two of the three reviews are by people who have reviewed only two books in their life – this book and another book by the same author. They are allegedly by different people. What do you think? Are these just fake reviews? I think so.

I admit it. I want that book to fail. I want those tactics to fail. Seems mean, why wish ill on anyone, but still…

What Amazon and iPad Teach us About Strategy

I love it: now when I buy a Kindle book from Amazon.com, I can have it on my iPhone, my iPad, my Mac laptop, my Windows laptop, my Mac Desktop, or my Windows desktop.

Kindle on iPadThis makes me feel like I really own the book. If I have a spare 10 minutes, just about wherever I am, I can read the book. It’s great usability. Great convenience.

And I love the business strategy implications. By making Kindle books available on every possible hardware device, Amazon chooses not to reserve them for people who buy the Kindle hardware. Is this a sacrifice? Helping competitors? Does the iPad make the Kindle less desireable? Yes? Does having Kindle books available on the iPad mean Amazon.com will sell more Kindle books? Yes.

On the long term, Amazon wins because it focuses on what it does really well. Kindle books become the standard. It’s called focus. And strategy is focus.