Reviewing the reviewers

Reviews for the book have begun to appear on and So far, they have (thankfully) been very positive.

Amazon is, of course, the giant of online shopping and it gets a lot of things right. But some of the best features aren’t the big things; it’s the small enhancements that really add to the shopping experience.

In many ways, Amazon were ahead of their time when they allowed customers to submit reviews of products sold on the site. It must have seemed crazy at the time; How will you control what people are saying? These days, it seems like a very savvy, user-centred, Web 2.0 way of thinking.

The policing of comments is also left to the users. There’s a “report this” link next to each review, allowing you to flag up a review for, um, review.

Like eBay, Amazon has also tackled the issue of trust. How do you know whether or not someone’s opinion is worth paying attention to? As is the case with the real world, trust is something that’s built over time. Each review on Amazon has a link saying “see all my reviews”. Clicking this link does exactly what it says on the tin.

One of the reviews for the DOM Scripting book has the title “Exceptionally Clear Handling of a Subject in Transition”. It was written by Brett Merkey — which Amazon flags up as his real name: another small aid to establishing trust.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with the review:

The author focuses on teaching correct methods and approaches, often taking the long way around to make it easier to see the larger picture. This requires a lot of forethought and organization on the part of an author and here the material excels. I don’t think anyone will trip up following this guide through the Web script jungle.

But how would a potential buyer know whether or not to trust this review? Well, clicking through to all of Brett Merkey’s reviews reveals a methodical history of reviews of web-related books. When he likes something, he explains why. When he’s less pleased, he gives his reasons. With just a little digging, it becomes clear that this person writes thoughtful, balanced reviews.

Amazon creates an association between a person’s history and their reputation (much like the real world). It isn’t perfect, of course. If you’re just starting out with adding reviews, there’s no reason for anyone to trust your opinion. That’s something you have to earn, like a newbie earning points in MMORPG.

The issue of trust and reputation is something that is going to grow in importance as we moved towards the (uppercase) Semantic Web. Incidentally, this is the issue that really distinguished Google from all other search engines: Google recognised that links were essentially a vote of confidence in a URL (spammers notwithstanding).

The Semantic Web is probably a long way off, but we can learn a lot of lessons about trust from sites like Amazon.

Posted by Jeremy on Monday, October 24th, 2005 at 10:21pm


Jeremy, I refuse to comment on any part of the book until I’ve read it in full. I have a pile of post-its sitting in the back of the book with plenty of things to say, so with that in mind, do look forward to them. I left all the positive for other folks, most of my thoughts are on a constructive criticism level only. Things I thought that could have been improved or perhaps alternate methods to the same end. I’ve got only a few chapters left so I’ll let you know via my own site.

# Posted by Dustin Diaz on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005 at 12:47am

gulp Now, I’m scared. Please be gentle with me, Dustin.

# Posted by Jeremy Keith on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005 at 12:52am

Of course it can also go the opposite direction. By that I mean if someone has 500 comments and it is assumed they actually read the books, then how do they have time to apply what they learned to the real world?

I only post a comment on Amazon if the book is truly worth my time.

# Posted by John Thomas on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005 at 10:59pm

Sorry. Comments are closed.

October 2005

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