Sat 24 Mar, 2007 12:34 am
BEST OF THE NET
Trust me, I'm a reviewer
Sean Dodson, The Guardian Saturday March 24 2007
Aldous Huxley once wrote that the most useful travel guide would be one that you wrote yourself. What the visionary writer failed to anticipate was just how many of us would take him at his word. In the last five years user-generated reviews of hotels and holidays have exceeded almost everybody's expectations. At current count, tripadvisor.com alone has published over five million of them.
Still not everyone is happy with the brave new world of user-generated content. Only last month, Arthur Frommer, founder of Frommers travel guides, questioned whether user-generated sites were the real deal or possibly "part of a calculated campaign to either promote or destroy the reputation of a particular hotel or cruise ship". The European Union shares his suspicions and from January next year companies caught posting bogus reviews will face prosecution.
Sites that hold user-generated content are tightening up their procedures to verify their reviews. All filter out libellous comments and swear words, but each differs on how it ensures that its users' reviews are from genuine paying customers. Tripadvisor only allows individual users to write a single review of each property, as well as allowing companies to respond to any negative comments left on the site. Big online travel agents like expedia.com and priceline.co.uk only allow users to post their views if they have booked the holiday through them.
Thomson.co.uk, a more recent convert to user-generated content, deploys a small editorial team to sift through the reviews and cross reference them with the "customer service scoring" collated from questionnaires given to customers on their flights home. Their policy is that as long as the review is not offensive, it appears on the site in its raw form, spelling mistakes and all.
Despite (or possibly because of) the unpolished nature of user-generated reviews, the evidence is that we are learning to trust each other. A recent survey by Nielsen Media suggested that over half of regular travellers trusted user-generated reviews more than any other source. What's more, the next generation of user-generated reviews might prove even more trustworthy.
At the moment, most user-generated reviews are anonymous. But this could be changing. Take a look at the new restaurant, bar and gastropub review site trustedplaces.com. The whole thing is as transparent as a fish tank - you can see exactly who is saying what about where. It's far more likely that a bogus reviewer will be caught in the act or simply not bother to post anything bogus at all.
Interesting article. Thanks for sharing. I've wondered about this myself as I've been relying heavily on tripadvisor.com. What I like about this site though is that there is a forum that I've also used and hopefully gained accurate information.