I’ve been surprised by the increasing dominance of customer reviews from the Amazon Vine; this program gives select customers free “new and pre-release items” from participating vendors. For instance, of the ten most helpful reviews (the default view) for this laser pointer six are Vine reviews. We might be cautious about accepting the reviews of those who get products for free, but at least it is clearly disclosed. (I also wonder what the vendors pay to participate?) However, are these reviews really the most helpful? Not necessarily, as one of my interviewees notes “the early bird gets the (first reviews (and first review votes)) worms”.
In 2003 I recognized this phenomenon as “the rush and slash effect”: “the best that can be said for the Slashdot system is that it selects the most popular comments within the period most readers are likely to spend their moderator credits, which is probably within a few hours.” In analyzing the statistics of comments’ age I concluded that “Given that I read Slashdot with a threshold of ‘4 or higher’ this means that the average elapsed time of comments I read is just over an hour, and I can not see a comment that is more than 8 hours old!” Hence, and sadly, lower quality comments, especially FIRSTs, get more attention than they merit. When you combine this phenomenon with the possibility that Amazon Vine reviewers are too kind, it’s plausible that reviews are inflated – and that companies are wise to participate.