How Do You Get The Most Out Of Online Reviews?

Products don’t advertise their drawbacks leaving shoppers to rely on online reviews as one of the only ways to determine a product’s true worth. Salon argues in an article heavy on fluff and light on content that reviews are just a meaningless muddle of questionable opinions. We disagree, but the article does raise one good question: how do you judge the value online reviews?

Salon has trouble navigating the marketplace of ideas:

But what of Xinyi Yang “lilyyxy,” who claims the DeLonghi DCH2590ER Ceramic Heater with Remote Control was so noisy it kept her up at night? I have no way to tell whether or not Xinyi Yang “lilyyxy” is a light sleeper, or if he/she used the heater on an outrageously high setting, or if he/she placed it right next to his/her head. I can’t even tell what gender Xinyi Yang is!

And what about dinner tonight? Should I cancel my reservation at an Indian restaurant because mzt wrote a post about it titled “Bland, Blah and Expensive”? Who is this mzt, anyway? Is his bank account as small as his taste buds?

Much as with critics — the ones who do this for a living — personality and personal preference play major roles in the review process. But while professional critics are held to certain standards, the average consumer is not. A spilled drink, a lost wallet, a bad fight or oversalted popcorn can ruin any experience, but full-time critics are paid to look past these details and speak to the larger experience. Roger Ebert and cornpops116 can both give “I Am Legend” three stars, but only one of them would dare use (and this is an actual quote) “Best cheesesteak I ever had” as justification.

We avoid Salon’s troubles by immediately discounting reviews of low-dollar items like milk and ballpoint pens. Devoting the time to review tissues is evidence enough of questionable judgement. We mostly look at the volume of reviews and for repeating themes. If several people claim that an air conditioner is noisy, we’re going to trust that they don’t have super-sensitive hearing. Amazon is great for dredging broad consumer sentiment, but we are more inclined to trust sites that follow a niche market.

What are your tricks for determining the worth of online reviews? Share in the comments.

Was this review helpful to you? [Salon]