The problem with rate-and-review

Lately there’s been some attention focused on the pros and cons of rate-and-review sites such as Yelp, which is making headway in restaurant reviews, and TripAdvisor, which long ago reached critical mass in hotel reviews.

(Sample coverage: Search Engine Land, Greg Sterling, the New York Times.)

I find user ratings and reviews to be helpful, but they’re never as helpful as I’d like. Some of my beefs:

  1. Ratings and reviews require way too much work to analyze.
  2. Review coverage is almost always spotty. (TripAdvisor is an exception; it has extraordinary coverage.)
  3. Reviews seldom speak to my personal concerns.

I’m happiest when I don’t need to read any reviews at all: If one pizza place has 893 reviews with an average rating of 4.8 stars out of 5, for instance, and another has 514 reviews with an average rating of just 1.1 stars — well, I know where I’m going.

More often, however, one place has 7 reviews with an average rating of 3.1 stars, while another has 4 reviews with an average rating of 3.4 stars. Then I know that I’m doomed to a lot of reading, and that I won’t necessarily emerge with a conclusion.

Also, I rarely have any familiarity with the reviewers on (say) Yelp, even if they’re reviewing restaurants in my hometown. Do they have kids, for instance? Sure, I can hope they mention it in their reviews, or I can look at people’s profiles to see if they are somehow “like me.”

But really, do I have to work so hard?

I think my issues are pretty common. IMO they’re indicative of a larger disconnect: Despite their portrayal as such, rate-and-review sites just aren’t good tools for answering a question like “Where should I go for pizza in Leesburg?”

Rate-and-review is more of a due-diligence tool, better suited to answer a question like “What’s the scoop on Fireworks Pizza?” (Alas, no link to Yelp here; it has no reviews yet.) Such questions don’t necessarily feed into a recommendation. Indeed, they’ll often follow one.

This is the difference, I think, between social search and social research.

Of course, for some decisions — an anniversary dinner, a trip to Puerto Rico — I’m perfectly willing to spend time on due diligence, just as I’ll go to CNET when I’m researching a printer.

But mostly I just want a quick, trustworthy recommendation. And for that, I need a different type of tool. It could be editorial, a professional voice I trust and is, as luck would have it, omnipresent and omniscient.

Or it could be social, a quick way to tap into personally relevant opinions and information.

1 Comment

  1. Laurence: Great rundown of the issues. The next time a client asks me about ratings, I’ll just send this.

    Happy post AOL.

    Peter K


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