Amazon or many other online stores now routinely allow you not only to rate the products, but also the reviews of the products. "Was this review helpful to you?" Amazon asks. You give the review a thumbs up or down, then they tally the votes.

Have you looked at those tallies lately? The people who write the most concise, detailed and informative reviews--but are saying something negative--routinely get panned by the audience. How is that possible? Those are precisely the reviews I'm looking for, ones that warn me off a product that I'd been tempted to swoon for online. Positive reviews are nice, but they just reinforce my already positive view of a product I'm thinking of buying.

Here's an example. I'm considering buying a Freestyle MP3 player. One guy notes that the music subscription service doesn't work; another guy says you have to use your fingernail to control the volume. I'd say that's pretty helpful, right? Yet the sole reviewer of the first guy voted him unhelpful and half the people rating the second said he was not helpful. Now not all negative reviews are panned. But it sure seems like they get hit harder. Look at the reviews for this camera: Derek Tang's incredibly long-winded but positive review is endorsed by 120 of 122 readers. Only two readers out of 153 disfavor the next five glowing reviews. Then we get to the critical guys and the love disappears. C Field "roughedge" has the clever title "Video quality reminiscent of a 1980s VHS" and suddenly only 14 of 17 readers approve.

The only people I can think of that wouldn't find negative reviews helpful are the people trying to sell these products. I have no idea if Freestyle or any other company would bother dissing their negative reviewers. Maybe we really of are a nation of cheerleaders, unhappy when anyone criticizes a good effort.

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