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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

To sign or not to sign

This new petition of Amazon is interesting and relates to some problems to which I've pointed before:
Protect Amazon.com Users and Indie Publishing Authors from Bullying and Harassment by Removing Anonymity and Requiring Identity Verification for Reviewing and Forum Participation

For the consideration of Mr. Jeff Bezos and Mr. Jon P. Fine:

The purpose of this petition is to bring to the attention of Mr. Bezos, Mr. Fine, and anyone else employed by Amazon or its subsidiaries, the lack of oversight and or control in the Amazon system regarding product reviewing—in particular book reviewing—and in the participation of the many forums on Amazon.

It is known the world over that Amazon changed the face of self publishing by implementing their Kindle Direct Publishing platform as well as their CreateSpace platform. Anyone can now quickly and easily publish a book using the tools freely provided by Amazon. Whether or not everyone who publishes through KPD and CreateSpace should is not at issue here. What is at issue is the fact that there is an incredible amount of bullying and harassment of some of these self publishing authors taking place on the Amazon platform/system.

I believe, as do countless others—many who will have signed this petition—that the reason this bullying and harassment is able to take place is because of the allowance of anonymity on Amazon. People have found ways to exploit this flaw in the system and are using it to bully, harass, and generally make life miserable for certain authors on Amazon. These people are able to create multiple accounts and then use those accounts to viciously attack and go after any author or person that they feel doesn't belong on Amazon or who shouldn't have published a book, made a comment on a forum post, etc. With the current system, if one anonymous account gets deactivated because it was reported for these things, it is easy for the bully or harasser to simply create another anonymous account and continue on with their shenanigans.

What I—we—would like to see happen is for Amazon to revise their policies regarding anonymity when it comes to writing product/book reviews and for participation in the forums. Reviewers and forum participants should not be anonymous. By removing their anonymity and forcing them to display their real, verified identities, I believe that much of the harassment and bullying will cease. It may continue elsewhere on the web, but not on Amazon, the largest online retail marketplace in the world, where it really counts. Buyers of products on Amazon must have their identities verified, so it should be an easy transition to implement a policy whereby reviewers and forum participants must also have their identities verified.
While I could do without the appeals to bullying and so forth, the problem of fake reviews is definitely a real one. And while I am completely opposed to the law mandating real identities, this is simply one private corporation's policy. So, my inclination is towards signing the petition, but I'm curious to know what the other authors and readers here have to say about it.

I think I'd sign it without question if it was limited to reviews. As much as I dislike restricted forums, I dislike even more the idea that the self-published authors, who are much less accustomed to trolls and socio-sadists working out their psychological issues online than I am, are forced to put up with this sort of nonsense from the very start, especially since they can't control the forum comments the way I can here. Here it's no trouble to ban the likes of the usual suspects, or put the short-term kibosh on someone getting out of line, but that's simply not possible on Amazon.

I think the author of the petition's assumption that sunlight will deter the trolls is generally correct. I noticed that the number of fake reviews of my books on Amazon declined considerably after I tracked down the woman from Minnesota and posted her address on this blog. Even the Greatest Pensman in All Karatonitus significantly reduced his activities here after I called his place of volunteer work and made it evident that I was in possession of the email addresses of his friends and extended family members. There are few trolls so shameless that they are willing to have those around them know what they are doing and how they are behaving.

UPDATE: Upon reading the discussion and engaging in further reflection, I have decided not to sign the petition. There are more effective ways to deal with the problem and anonymity can be a vital and necessary state for people in certain circumstances.

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85 Comments:

Anonymous John-GT March 05, 2014 1:07 PM  

A couple of things about the reviews. I typically check to see if the 'amazon verified purchase' is on the review. If it's not there then I typically ignore the review. I also check out the bad reviews to see if they actually are reviewing the book or just have a problem with the author. If the latter, I ignore. Finally, if the review mentions that a book is similar in style to an author I've not enjoyed, then I skip the book and move on. So if authors like Scalzi, Abercrombie, Bakker, and Martin are mentioned in a positive manner, I know I'm most likely not going to like the story.

So, I'm indifferent to a petition such as this one.

OpenID bc64a9f8-765e-11e3-8683-000bcdcb2996 March 05, 2014 1:09 PM  

"While I could do without the appeals to bullying and so forth...."
Well, it IS addressing... "for the children", and others of "challenged" intellect and integrity.
Just as long as the NEXT intellectual demand will NOT be for "Trigger warning:".

CaptDMO

Blogger Outlaw X March 05, 2014 1:14 PM  

I always use my real name on Amazon reviews because when people see "Real Name" on the review I believe it is taken more seriously and besides, if I am going critique someone for better or worse they should at least know who is doing it. Hit and run tactics are for cowards.

Anonymous TLM March 05, 2014 1:15 PM  

you're like seinfeld showing up at the heckler's place of work and heckling her performance

Anonymous WinstonWebb March 05, 2014 1:16 PM  

"Verified Purchase" should suffice. So long as the reviewers have actually bought the product, then their reviews (whether positive, negative, or idiotic) should be allowed to stand - even anonymously.

Anonymous Josh March 05, 2014 1:18 PM  

Perhaps a weighted review system would work, where verified purchases and real names are weighted 2x an anonymous non verified purchase review.

Hierarchy:
4pts verified purchase and real name
3pts verified purchase
2pts real name
1pt anonymous/pseudonymous

Blogger JartStar March 05, 2014 1:18 PM  

The decision for Identity Verification on Amazon has it's own landmines, but in this instance I think the risk is worth the reward. There are very few worst case scenarios which are so bad that it makes fake reviews and online bullying worth the toll they take.

Blogger Harold Carper March 05, 2014 1:23 PM  

I think reviewers ought to be able to post anonymously, but I think it's a good idea for Amazon to limit reviews to verified purchasers.

Anonymous Fellow Traveler in Berkeley March 05, 2014 1:23 PM  

I would be fine with the weighted point system suggested by Josh. I am VERY leery of using my real name on any forum - even for something benign like book reviews, b/c my name is sufficiently rare that page 1 of a Google search will reveal my home address, maiden name, spouse, and spouse's place of employment.

Blogger Harold Carper March 05, 2014 1:24 PM  

Josh's idea is also good.

Anonymous Giraffe March 05, 2014 1:25 PM  

Usually you can determine how much weight to put on a person's review by how well it is written.

I like at least the illusion of being anonymous.

Anonymous Josh March 05, 2014 1:28 PM  

I don't think the problem is what is actually written in the fake reviews, it's that it's relatively simple to push the average review rating down with a lot of one star fake reviews.

Blogger Hanns Strudle extra gooey March 05, 2014 1:30 PM  

Atheists must live on Amazon. Every book I order has been plastered with one star reviews, and it's usually the same couple of boneheads. I guess they take great pride in living their so-called purposeless existence with some purpose after all: being puss-filled zits on the arse of society. Real pillars of the community they are.

Anonymous Giraffe March 05, 2014 1:30 PM  

I am also concerned about stifling some comedic potential. This is what the internet is for:

Anonymous jack March 05, 2014 1:30 PM  

Generally agree with the Vox position. However, I think that a troll that has not read the product and crap cans it should be drawn and quartered. [see Kratman philosophy].

Anonymous WaterBoy March 05, 2014 1:31 PM  

Yeah, that's a bit of a two-edged sword, there.

Imagine if a vindictive author took exception to a valid review with a poor rating, and decided to strike out against that person in Real Life™, just as you, Vox, did with an invalid one. And I don't mean just publishing an address -- there are far worse actions to be taken after that.

I would not be opposed to requiring a Verified Purchaser, however. This would definitely cut down on the number of fraudulent reviews and repeat accounts, while still preserving anonymity. It will hinder reviews by people who purchase elsewhere, of course, but then why does Amazon need to provide non-customers with a forum, anyway?

Anonymous Giraffe March 05, 2014 1:35 PM  

I don't think the problem is what is actually written in the fake reviews, it's that it's relatively simple to push the average review rating down with a lot of one star fake reviews.

I guess that is a good point. I usually look at books because they are recommended. I typically read a few 5 star reviews and a few 1 star reviews and try to determine which group are the idiots. If you see a lot of 4 and 5 stars and a lot of 1 stars but no 2 and 3 stars I take that as some people with an axe to grind. Perhaps most people just look at the overall rating.

Anonymous Crispy March 05, 2014 1:36 PM  

As others have mentioned, using "Verified Purchase" and / or real names helps to eliminate the anonymous drive-by reviewing. The issue I'd have with verified purchase is that sometimes I've read the book without buying it from Amazon. "Web of Trust" concepts could be used here, but Amazon's unlikely to make that level of change unless the pain from anonymous reviews is sufficiently intense.

Anonymous Holmwood March 05, 2014 1:37 PM  

Fundamentally disagree with the general tenor. There is a huge difference between anonymous posts and owned pseudonymous ones. I've used the same handle for at least a decade, and I own and stand by my posts and reviews.

True, I don't use my meatspace name, in part because the consequences to investors (and me) could be severe if rabbits connected the dots.

Early pamphlets promoting a US revolution were often pseudonymous, even anonymous. That didn't invalidate the project.

Given the ability of a lone K-selected person to comment intelligently vs empowering herds of r-selected types to swarm and destroy (See Pax Dickinson, or Vox Day for that matter), I'll go for owned pseudonymity.

Make it difficult to change a pseudonym? Sure. Use tools like capturing browser agent signatures, resolution, OS variants, plugins to assess who is posting? Sure.

Require people to register real names? No thanks. Swatting follows.

Anonymous Doug Wardell March 05, 2014 1:41 PM  

I think that if the reviewer doesn't have a verified purchase, it makes sense that a real name should be required. I'm not as sold on the forums, but I wouldn't complain about it... says a guy posting to VP with his real name.

Blogger Outlaw X March 05, 2014 1:42 PM  

I really like Josh's Idea.

Anonymous sohatewowjustwow March 05, 2014 1:53 PM  

Anonymity allows people to say what they truly think without consequences. It lets the truth shine through. People have good reasons for hating you, and shutting down their expression isn't going to change that. You have a tyrant's instinct for suppressing unpleasant reactions.

Anonymous Will Best March 05, 2014 1:53 PM  

It seems to me that Amazon could retain anonymity and require that an account has to have bought $100 worth of merchandise in the last year to be able to write reviews.

Anonymous WaterBoy March 05, 2014 1:56 PM  

sohatewowjustwow : "People have good reasons for hating you"

So that entitles them to lie about his books -- because Hate?

Wow. Just wow.

Anonymous Salt March 05, 2014 1:56 PM  

A review is not a forum. I'd even go so far as only those having purchased / downloaded the item from Amazon may review. It's not like Amazon doesn't know.

Anonymous VD March 05, 2014 1:57 PM  

I really like Josh's Idea.

Yeah, so do I.

Anonymous Jeanne March 05, 2014 1:59 PM  

If Amazon only allowed reviews from those who purchased the book through Amazon, wouldn't that it down on the trolls? You can't post a review from an account that didn't purchase the book. Seems a simple fix.


I'm okay with requiring a real name though....

Anonymous Josh March 05, 2014 1:59 PM  

You could also create review tiers based on total reviews for that user and what percentage of people find their reviews helpful.

So if a person has reviewed 100 products on Amazon, and on average they have a +20 helpful rating, they're going to have a higher weighting than someone who has three reviews with a -10 helpful rating.

Blogger Outlaw X March 05, 2014 2:04 PM  

"Anonymity allows people to say what they truly think without consequences."

I don't think real name should be required, but I can't think of any consequences from anyone but the power of the State, which they can figure out who you are if they want. I' not afraid of the guys who sells something that isn't as advertised or is a piece of junk or got my order wrong (which happened recently they sent me the wrong size of some clothing I ordered) they hassled my life in having to send it back, so I gave them 1 star. What are they going to do to me? Nothing is the answer.

On blogs however I always use a moniker, this one allows me to express my personality, but the host and a few others know my real name.

Anonymous Noah B. March 05, 2014 2:06 PM  

I like the idea of Amazon requiring either a verified purchase or a verified identity. If someone has a verified purchase and wants to express a grievance that could result in significant blowback against them personally, there is potentially great value in allowing that person to comment without their identity being publicly known.

Anonymous Giraffe March 05, 2014 2:07 PM  

I like Josh's idea, with the Waterboy amendment. Reviews that are both anonymous and unverified are not allowed.

Anonymous Noah B. March 05, 2014 2:08 PM  

I like a modified version of Josh's idea, where anon rankings are not given any weight at all.

Anonymous Jack Amok March 05, 2014 2:10 PM  

I'd prefer to see a default review screen that only shows Verified Purchase + Real Name as a default, with an option to include anonymous reviews as well. So anyone who either chooses to use their real name or who is verified to have spent money on the product contribute to the default review score.

I don't use Amazon forums, but I do occasionally read the comments under reviews, and those seem to have a threshold mechanic that hides comments deemed to be ignorant blather. Seems to work okay.


Blogger Outlaw X March 05, 2014 2:12 PM  

So if a person has reviewed 100 products on Amazon, and on average they have a +20 helpful rating, they're going to have a higher weighting than someone who has three reviews with a -10 helpful rating.

I reviewed a DVD documentary that was filled with lies about the Catholic Church and I professionally pointed out the lies and corrected them and gave it 2 stars but they the author had a cult following of Catholic haters and attacked me with negative comments and rated my review as 100% unhelpful by a whole bunch of tree monkeys. So that idea I don't so much agree with.

OpenID newrebeluniv March 05, 2014 2:16 PM  

Better yet. Simply add these words to the top of all reviews:

All product reviews on the internet, including these, are for entertainment purposes only. Buying products and services on line carries risk that you cannot escape by reading a review written by a total stranger.

--Hale

Blogger Doom March 05, 2014 2:17 PM  

I would love to see it, as a consumer. I may not know, but it isn't always hard to guess, how many fake reviewers they are. Not just against something, though the anti-China union thugs are about as subtle as the Vietnamese who try to 'very fne goosed stuff' jack their products to the positive. It would be a treat not to have to worry quite as much about false reviews.

It is a business. It is private. If people don't like it, they can try to put their fake reviews in elsewhere. While reviews are taken with a huge grain of salt, as people really are stupid quite often... It would be good to know that only stupid buyers are doing the reviews.

Can you do anything about women who things as "lovely", while you are at it? Lovely is absolutely useless, as a review. I'm not buying, for example, a sun/light dampening curtain, in black, so as to have it be lovely. Gah!

Blogger JartStar March 05, 2014 2:18 PM  

Outlaw X,

That scenario moving from Amazon to the rest of a reviewer's life is the likely worst case scenario for actual identities. You positively or negatively review something which is important to a small group of them start harassing you off Amazon and sending things to your place of employment or family.

Anonymous Salt March 05, 2014 2:18 PM  

Outlaw, is it that you do not agree to their right at rating your review or that they did not take your opinion as their own?

Anonymous Jack Amok March 05, 2014 2:23 PM  

a cult following of Catholic haters and attacked me with negative comments and rated my review as 100% unhelpful by a whole bunch of tree monkeys. So that idea I don't so much agree with.

Bingo. Weighting reviews based on how the review has been reviewed just moves the problem one step down the road. Now you have to control for fake or malicious ratings on the reviews.

The only really good way to weight reviews based on reviewer scores is to make it a social network sort of deal, where I get a customized set of weighted scores based on which reviewers I have found helpful with a, ahem, penumbra effect on reviewers they have thought helpful too.

So, if I find Vox's review of Wereseals Gone Crazy to be helpful, and Vox has found Nate's review of Sour Mash Weekend to be helpful, then both of their reviews of Great Punters of the NFC North will be weighted highly for me (but probably not for McRapey or Tad).

Blogger TetanusScrote March 05, 2014 2:24 PM  

Don't you have to buy something on Amazon before you can review it? Surely you just can't create an account and review something right off the bat?

Anonymous Jack Amok March 05, 2014 2:28 PM  

Better yet. Simply add these words to the top of all reviews:

Yeah, so, the goal isn't to avoid shyster liability, it's to provide a useful service, so your idea doesn't work.

Blogger Outlaw X March 05, 2014 2:30 PM  

Outlaw, is it that you do not agree to their right at rating your review or that they did not take your opinion as their own?

Neither, It is just an argument about weighting reviews based on helpful and not helpful reviews. I don't care what they think. If they want to believe that the Catholic church killed 100 million people during the Inquisition, they can believe that, but it is not true.

Anonymous Jack Amok March 05, 2014 2:33 PM  

Don't you have to buy something on Amazon before you can review it? Surely you just can't create an account and review something right off the bat?

Sure. I've reviewed things on Amazon that I didn't buy on Amazon but purchased somewhere else.

One additional problem I'll note about Amazon reviews (doesn't apply so much to books as it does to other products, especially ones made in China...) is that older reviews are often no longer accurate. There are quite a few products with high average scores, but upon looking closer, you find the reviews from, say, 2009 to be generally great, but reviews from 2012 are lower and have a lot of comments like "the first one of these I bought three years ago was great, but when I bought a replacement this year, I found out it wasn't the same thing. The new version is much more cheaply made and not as good..."

Anonymous Josh March 05, 2014 2:33 PM  

I really want to see the forum thread of outlaw vs the anti Catholic flying monkeys

Anonymous RedJack March 05, 2014 2:39 PM  

I review in Amazon with my real name (or at least part of it). I do so because if I am saying that XYZ product is good or bad, I am comfortable with that inviting feedback in meatspace.

I actually had an author contact me after a 2 star review. He was mad, but after I explained my concerns and why he at least was gracious enough to admit he made some errors in physics and firearms.

Anonymous onejohn512 March 05, 2014 2:42 PM  

The weighting method proposed by Josh sounds workable. I'd add giving the author of the book the choice to allow anonymous reviews or not.

OpenID newrebeluniv March 05, 2014 2:44 PM  

Yeah, so, the goal isn't to avoid shyster liability, it's to provide a useful service, so your idea doesn't work.

I don't believe that is possible. You are dealing with the rule that MPAI and many of those who are not take delight in the old turd in the punch bowl trick. That's why hacking is so popular. other people ENJOY harming total strangers. The reviews on line are a disinformation campaign, even when applied rigorously. The best you can hope for is to constantly remind people that reviews are just someone else's opinion. Someone you don't know, and have no reason to believe or agree with them.

Anonymous Joe Doakes March 05, 2014 2:45 PM  

I work for a local government agency where everybody is a Liberal Democrat. I know from observing others' experience that expressing non-Liberal-Democrat thoughts under my real name will result in blow-back at work. But I'd like to be able to give positive reviews to non-Liberal-Democrat writers. I favor Josh's idea.

Anonymous Nah March 05, 2014 2:47 PM  

If Amazon only allowed reviews from those who purchased the book through Amazon, wouldn't that it down on the trolls? You can't post a review from an account that didn't purchase the book.

Don't like it. I review books I got from the library all the time. Such reviews provide a useful service to those thinking about buying the book.

Blogger flambeaux March 05, 2014 2:51 PM  

Josh's method is unnecessarily complex/gameable. Simply allow users to tick a box and see only verified reviews/ratings/stats if that is their wish. Let the anonymous users flame away at the abyss if that is what they need to do.

Anonymous Nah March 05, 2014 2:52 PM  

All the Kratman books I gave five stars to were library books (sorry, Tom).

Anonymous Josh March 05, 2014 2:55 PM  

Flam,

My original weighting method?

What's complex or gameable about a weighted average?

Blogger flambeaux March 05, 2014 3:00 PM  

You could send an army of scrubs to leave one-star reviews and it could overwhelm a few high-quality reviews. I'd rather just filter the low-quality data altogether rather than rely on a weighting factor.

Blogger Outlaw X March 05, 2014 3:02 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Outlaw X March 05, 2014 3:06 PM  

whoops
I really want to see the forum thread of outlaw vs the anti Catholic flying monkeys

I would Josh but it would hijack the thread, guaranteed! It has 38 comments on my post and it has 55 total reviews, I hit a nerve. I could email it to Nate and he pass it on to you if you like.

Anonymous peppermint March 05, 2014 3:21 PM  

It's simple. Put an icon next to the review if we have documentation that the reviewer has owned the item. Allow the people looking at the reviews to take that under consideration. Allow them to filter reviews by documentation of ownership or not.

See, the problem with forced real name or forced has purchased from here is that it sets policy that each reader should set for themselves. Give the people reading reviews that choice by verifying real names and purchases. Maybe also give people an icon if they've bought more than 10 or 100 books, or more than 20 from this genre, or if they've written a book, so people can take expert reviews into account.

Blogger Tom March 05, 2014 3:33 PM  

Type my full name in a search engine and guess what comes up 7th?

My 5 star review of Summa Elvetica on Amazon. It used to be higher before there was a newspaper article about me to displace it. I must admit that it is a little embarrassing though. 5 stars, what was I thinking?

Reviews of products and books should probably be limited to Amazon accounts that purchased that product. Though that does screw up the advanced review sort of thing, it would get rid of the idiotic "assassination by mass bad review" attempts.

Blogger jdwalker March 05, 2014 3:41 PM  

Why not just limit to verified purchasers? I could imagine there would be some users who would like to review something they've purchased, but they would also like to remain anonymous. This could certainly apply to purchased books, but also to the many other products on Amazon. People often get embarrassed for silly reasons, but they could still effectively contribute to the reviews with anonymity if they are verified purchasers. Take adult diapers as an example. Someone may not want to admit that they had to purchase some very good adult diapers, but they may want to let others know in a similar situation that they can count on brand X. This sounds like one of those policy crusades that is in response to a particular issue but creates a solution that has broader consequences that may not be intended or wanted.

Anonymous CLK March 05, 2014 3:50 PM  

So then what's next ... being sued by lawyers because you give a bad review ... or having the people whom you give a bad review start maligning you ... seem like a really bad idea. If amazon were to start requiring verified names/address you are one step away from lawyers, the government and serial killers using that information to track down reviewers....



Anonymous CLK March 05, 2014 4:05 PM  

I hardly read the reviews of books on Amazon ---but I always look at the previews and for text books the preface and TOC ... and I probably buy $1-2k/year in books (which is not hard when some of them cost $200 each). And most are printed because I haven't really bought into e books too much

I do read the reviews on other products -- but what I have found is that there appears to be a service out there that is submitting the same reviews to different sites for the same products - in general to improve the image of a product/service .. its funny because it will be different names but the almost the same words...

Blogger James Dixon March 05, 2014 4:13 PM  

Well, I'd take a middle of the ground approach. If I were Amazon, I'd require a verified identity to post reviews, but allow the reviews themselves to be anonymous. An anonymous review is fine as long as Amazon knows who you are and can take appropriate action if you abuse their service. An existing Amazon account with an attached credit card means an instant verified identity, of course.

Blogger James Dixon March 05, 2014 4:15 PM  

> So then what's next ... being sued by lawyers because you give a bad review

Yep. It's been known to happen. But there's nothing stopping them from suing Amazon for the IP address information right now.

Anonymous Scintan March 05, 2014 4:40 PM  

Never agree to anything of this sort, and certainly never sign a petition seeking such actions.

Anonymous Noah B. March 05, 2014 4:45 PM  

"See, the problem with forced real name or forced has purchased from here is that it sets policy that each reader should set for themselves."

Josh has a point in that the main problem with anon reviews is them giving low scores to an item, not what they actually write. So by default, are you going show product scores that include anon ratings, or not? I like your idea of giving the users control, but most people are going to see whatever is shown to them by default.

Blogger tz March 05, 2014 5:51 PM  

Answer-grade the reviewers. If someone under a pseudonym (that purchases $$$) and others find the review useful, let it stand.

The term is persistent pseudonym.

Would people more respect a review I placed (even if I disagreed) as TZ, or prefer John Scalzi or other SF Pinkos who happen to use their real names.

Thisis not academic. I finishes aToB while driving last weekend havingmy kdx read tome.

Anonymous Biff March 05, 2014 7:24 PM  

When I see a whole bunch of one-star reviews, I assume a lot of people got all fired up about the book. It's a plus . Yes, the auctorial ego suffers as the magic 5 drops to 1 and and half, but writers should expect suffering. I buy about 1k$ per year at Amazon; often from books some bunch of bad reviewers panned. Wasn't this petition started by Anne Rice, who hasn't done a good starting paragraph since 1984? If I was her I'd be cussing reviewers too.

Anonymous Heh March 05, 2014 7:43 PM  

Mostly on topic...

Today I read the truly epic beatdown of an anonymous reviewer (someone named "Great Pyr") who wrote a two-star review of Tom Kratman's Amazon Legion. Kratman schooled him in a 275-comment exchange. I laughed so hard I had to shut the door to my office.

Anonymous RandyBeck March 05, 2014 8:21 PM  

I agree that anonymity is sometimes a serious problem, but the flip side is that many of us indies don't get enough reviews as it is, particularly in the beginning.

My first disturbing review (3 stars yet very disturbing) was pseudonymous but still identifiable at the time. Some of my best reviews were from anonymous readers.

I'm not saying this isn't an big issue. It can be a killer. I just want a better solution.

Anonymous Michael Maier March 05, 2014 9:10 PM  

Just posted my review of "Big Boys Don't Cry". Mr. Kratman's style may grate on me when he posts here, but I really think other purchases will have to follow.

Anonymous automatthew March 05, 2014 9:16 PM  

Several others have made variations on this point, but I'll chime in: the root problem is the conjoint nature of reviews and ratings. Ratings are a first class data feature at Amazon: you can sort searches by them. To allow non-verified purchasers to insert rankings into the dataset is to invite shenanigans.

Reviews are very different. You can't sort a list based on the quality of a product as expressed in the natural language of a review.

Amazon could mitigate the ankle-biter problem with this relatively simple plan:

* present the ratings interface to everybody (so the ankle-biters think they're expressing themselves)
* record the ratings from verified purchasers
* memory-hole the ratings from unverified purchasers
* accept and publish all reviews, whether anonymous, verified purchase, etc.
* switch the review badge from rewarding Verified Purchases to instead tainting Unverified Reviewers
* continuing accepting helpful/unhelpful ratings on the reviews themselves
* sort the reviews for a product first by Verified/Unverified, then by the helpfulness feature.

I like this because there's no twiddly algorithm params, and no weighting other than by review helpfulness. Essentially it amounts to little more than recognizing there's an ankle-biter problem and solving it with a simple heuristic.

To address the "lately the Chinese have been phoning it in" problem with reviews, Amazon could sort reviews first by verified-purchase, then by date, then by helpfulness.

Anonymous LL March 05, 2014 9:48 PM  

I haven't read competely through all of these comments (hit the first 40 or so), but one drawback to the verified purchase are those of us who get free copies for review. I have had several publishers or authors offer up free books to review and I write up a blog post, but occasionally, I will also address it on Amazon. Now, I have reviewed books under my real name and blogging name both (which would be considered anonymous). Just a random point to add to the discussion.

Anonymous Roundtine March 05, 2014 9:56 PM  

Re: Josh's idea, are reviewers actually anonymous in Amazon's system? My reviews are under a pseudonym, but that pseudonym is linked to my Amazon account. It is nothing for Amazon to get my info. Can you just sign up for Amazon, having bought nothing at all, and post reviews on all the products?

Anonymous Jack Amok March 05, 2014 10:06 PM  

I don't believe that is possible. You are dealing with the rule that MPAI ...

If you're going to let "MAPI" be an excuse for never doing anything, you might as well go live in a cave.

Anonymous kh123 March 05, 2014 10:49 PM  

"So that idea I don't so much agree with."

Second that. Might as well weight it on how often one's contributions to Wikipedia have been edited out or overwritten. Either way, folks will only gravitate towards what they know or agree with.

Anonymous Don March 06, 2014 2:31 AM  

Verified purchase 10pts verified name 5 pts length of review (original) 1 to 5?

Just a thought. Maybe only allow people with Amazon accts make the 'helpful' determination?

Anonymous tiredofitall March 06, 2014 3:19 AM  

"Anonymity allows people to say what they truly think without consequences." - sohatewowjustwow

Yeah, but it also allows total jagoffs the same freedom. Normal people given a forum to voice their opinion without fear of personal reprisal is a great thing. Giving dickheads the same chance isn't.

"It lets the truth shine through." - sohatewowjustwow

Strongly disagree with you on that, all anonymity grants is the speaker to say their peace, good or bad without having to worry about attacks on their IRL identity. It is not some great beacon shining the light of truth upon all.

"People have good reasons for hating you, and shutting down their expression isn't going to change that. You have a tyrant's instinct for suppressing unpleasant reactions." - sohatewowjustwow

Oh I get it now, you've made a mistake, the guy you want is named John Scalzi and his site is called "Whatever".

Anonymous sohatewowjustwow March 06, 2014 3:37 AM  

VD goes out of his way to inflame people, it shouldn't be a surprise that they would want to strike back, especially where he might feel it more acutely. You want to take the moral high ground and demand only "honest reviews" when it's going to affect your pocket book but also spend the rest of the time trolling those same people all day on your blog. It boils down to demanding that amazon filter out the haters that you create for yourself, at their cost. It would be pretty convenient if it actually worked that way, unfortunately life is usually a bit more tricky.

Anonymous VD March 06, 2014 3:54 AM  

It boils down to demanding that amazon filter out the haters that you create for yourself, at their cost.

I didn't demand anything. I didn't sign the petition. But do you feel that it is acceptable to strike back at people wherever they feel it most acutely whenever they criticize you in public? If so, I will keep that in mind and feel free to go after my critics' jobs and family lives whenever I choose.

Would you like to know where Phoenician works? Or where Yama spends his Mondays volunteering? I have more information on these people than you likely believe possible.

Anonymous Blastman March 06, 2014 4:27 AM  

The petition framed the issue as follows …

What is at issue is the fact that there is an incredible amount of bullying and harassment of some of these self publishing authors taking place on the Amazon platform/system.

One wonders whether some of the major publishing houses have hired trolls to harass and devalue the self publishing authors. A sort of protecting your turf agenda as they see this self publishing as a threat to their control of the industry. Could even be employees of the publishing houses trying to see what they view as protecting their jobs.

Anonymous Blastman March 06, 2014 4:30 AM  

"trying to see" = doing

Anonymous Feh March 06, 2014 6:11 AM  

Can you just sign up for Amazon, having bought nothing at all, and post reviews on all the products?

Yes!

Anonymous tiredofitall March 06, 2014 12:35 PM  

"Would you like to know where Phoenician works? Or where Yama spends his Mondays volunteering? I have more information on these people than you likely believe possible." - VD

To be fair though, those two aren't the brightest trolls you've had. They kinda remind me of the mentally retarded folks that "Morning Zoo" type radio shows used to bring on and make fun of. Frankly I'm surprised neither of them haven't slipped up and accidentally posted their own info by now.

Blogger Tom Kratman March 07, 2014 8:59 AM  

Heh:

What annoyed me about Pyr was the sheer dishonesty. Someone can say they hate my books for the politics; I am as likely as not to say thanks for letting me know I am doing my job. Someone can say they hate the books for political reasons, _especially_ because they're well written, and that person goes on my mandatory to buy beer for list, given the opportunity. But what someone can't do, at least without my verbally pounding them, is to attribute to me the opposite of the arguments I made, IOW lie about having read the books, or the arguments I refuted, and then refute only those as if that were refuting the books It's not only disgustingly dishonest, it's subhumanly stupid. I mean, seriously, he can read the book and than claim I ignored the military history of gays? Huh? Tercio Gorgidas? Preposterous. He, too, should be culled to improve the breed.

Blogger Tom Kratman March 07, 2014 9:03 AM  

Nah:

If I objected to people getting books from the library...

I don't. That's what they're there for. Why, that would be like objecting to word of mouth advertising.

Blogger Tom Kratman March 07, 2014 9:16 AM  

"it would get rid of the idiotic "assassination by mass bad review" attempts."

It's been attempted on me. Doesn't really work well. Indeed, seems to backfire, generally. Remember, the only bad publicity is your own obituary.

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