Tag Archives: yelp

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?

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.