The idea of user-generated content on websites has taken off in a big way over the last few years. Just take a look at the growing popularity of opinion-sharing sites such as Digg, Slashdot and StumbleUpon (okay, that's far more than a website really but play along with me) and it's hard to deny that Web 2.0, as it has become trendy to call this type of site structure, is making tsunami size waves.
It's not just the Diggs of the world that have latched on to this idea, though. Take YouTube for example. A large feature of the site is that videos can be rated and commented on by anyone willing to sign up and create an account. In theory this is a great idea - now I don't have to waste the time trawling through countless videos to find the good ones, I can simply base my choice on the opinions of other, like-minded individuals.
Of course as any of you who have actually used any, or many, of the above sites know; if the majority of comments on the average YouTube video or Digg submission are anything to go by, I certainly don't want to liken my mind to the
morons individuals who made them. It seems everyone has an opinion and the "LOUDER YOU SHOUT IT" and "werse u speel" it the more profound your point is. And trust me, those examples are mild in the extreme.
On a site like SlashDot that isn't really a problem, if I click a link to a story that has good feedback and it turns out I don't agree with the general populace (the literate ones that is) all I have lost is some time. The same is true, to a certain degree, of all similarly structures sites. As there is a clear distinction between what is â€˜real' content and what is user opinion, there isn't much detriment to the former caused by the latter.
But what if you translate that user-feedback model onto, say, a shopping site like Play or Amazon, or a price comparison site offering user reviews? Okay, so at face value what you have is a system of feedback giving potential buyers real opinions from real purchasers who really own the product. In reality though, those customers are generally divided into two categories.
The first group are desperate to justify their purchase to any and all who will listen - basically, having laid their own cash against a product these people will be damned if they'll let anyone say anything bad about their choice, even if it does suck, and will take every opportunity to evangelise said product to any and everyone possible.
At the opposite end of the scale are those buyers who having for one reason or another taken adversely to a product (often for no discernible reason) and have made it their life's mission to inform the world of its ills. The problem is that this generally gets realised as a slur campaign against the company in general and those people who own its products. "Anyone who buys the X-brand model-123 is an idiot, I got one of these and have regretted it ever since, it sucks!" for example - no explanation, just a rant.
Worse still, even if the comments seem genuine and unbiased (or at least not unduly so) there is no way to tell if the person making the comment is even a legitimate owner, a company employee or the result of a sufficient number of monkeys at a sufficient number of keyboards given sufficient time to eventually produce a user review of the Sony VAIO TZ. (The rest end up commenting on YouTube if you ask me).