The Nameless Horror

How Not To Fix Amazon's Review System

Part of me thinks there’s no point nitpicking at this load of old toss from the HuffPo, but the other part of me knows it should be getting on with some work, so here we are.

So, then:

  • No review should be anonymous. Reviewers must give their full name and email address. This will give authors and publishers a chance to authenticate or challenge the reviewer if he or she so chooses, and bring an imposter to the attention of Amazon. After all, the author is fully transparent, so why not his or her critic.

No review is anonymous, nor have they been for years since Amazon did away with anonymous reviews. Every review now has a name. One, I assume, tied to an email address.

I assume Adler’s confusing “anonymous” with “using a name other than your real one”, and what a barrier having an email address will be to keeping people on the straight and narrow, eh?

I can register an email address in the name of any of my three horrible cats and then swear blind, in the guise of that cat, that I really am them and, yes, my review of that Mouseketeers DVD criticising its inedibility and depressingly wipe-clean vomit-proof surface was genuine. I can do this because an email address isn’t worth piss.

Secondly, I don’t know I’d want to enforce real names/email addresses on reviewers in a world where people can go apeshit at a poor review of a kettle they’re fond of, but YMMV here.

The reviewer should volunteer his or her age in general categories and gender. This would, of course be helpful to an author and publishers to have some approximate knowledge of the reader.

This isn’t actually a terribly bad suggestion - assuming it’s voluntary - but the idea that the author or publisher should be the main ones to benefit from the data for what’s supposed to be a guide to other customers is a bit weird. A review system that, once you’d logged in, showed you, the customer browsing a product, its top reviews/ratings based on people closest to you in age/gender (as well as a link to all the others), might be a bit more nuanced. Of course, it’d also have to take into account everyone’s geographical and social background to be genuinely useful, etc. etc., but it might be a bit more helpful than the mysterious “relevancy” by which so many places default-sorts search results.

Of course, then you’d get people who didn’t want to volunteer that information finding their reviews down-ranked or buried, and that might be seen as making a “voluntary” option more of a compulsory one if they wanted to be taken seriously, and that would be a whole different can of worms.

No review should be less or more than 100 words. A serious reviewer should not merely “vote” his or her opinion but, at the very least, offer a brief explanation.

Reviews of exactly 100 words, then? These are bound to be of much greater value! I’m now going to offer a brief, considered explanation of this suggestion and its benefits in precisely 100 words:

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Point made, moving on!

Eliminate the star system. It is far too subjective and can be abused, and give a false impression of quality of the work or encourage rejection without it being read. An intelligent reader searching for a book should make his or her judgment the same way that they would pick a book at a library or a brick and mortar bookstore.

I can confidently state that this will never, ever happen. Coincidentally, this is also the only suggestion I’d agree with entirely. Amazon (and everywhere else) is riddled with one-star I SAW A TRAILER AND THIS WILL BE SHIT reviews of things not even released yet that at least doing away with a 1-5 ratings system would stop such bollocks fudging the averages. YouTube did it, way back when, switching to simple like/dislike options in addition to comments. Even if all Amazon (and everywhere else) did was do the same (and they now include the likes at least), I’d applaud it.

Never going to happen, though.

Sidenote:

Gone are the days when a handful of established and respected literary critics were solicited to seriously review books and offer opinions that might influence readers on their choices. This is not to say that there aren’t intelligent and experienced reviewers currently pursuing their craft, but their opinions are offered in a fractionalized arena where there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of circles of influence.

Boo fucking hoo, to be frank. A handful of established and respected literary critics knew - and still know - their trade, but the idea that coverage is now shallower (in terms of individual readership) but broader (in terms of covering more than a relative handful of books) can only be a good thing. Especially if it allows more reviewers, in blogs or zines online, the chance to be taken seriously by publishers and writers alike.

Sidenote 2:

Adler’s bio is self-provided (it’s longer on IMDb and comes from his own publishing label). Always take anything with a pinch of salt from someone who describes their own writing as “masterful”. Kudos to him for still coming out swinging at nearly 86, but still.