Why you can't trust Amazon user recommendations

Here's the problem bedeviling marketers- as print media declines, television viewership fragments,and Internet advertising's impact is diluted by an overabundance of ads, how will customers find the good stuff? How will you and I know we must see Iron Man and, at all costs, avoid Disaster Movie?

The answer could be recommendations by like-minded Internet users. Amazon, for example, gathers user reviews for its items. The site Digg allows participants to vote on interesting stories on the net, pushing the most popular to the top of the list. Goodreads.com allows members to express their opinions about books, so readers can pick the best of the best.

The problem? Behind the scenes, virtually every Internet-based user recommendation avenue is gamed. A quick search on SEO (search engine optimization) will give you a list of companies that will make comments in blogs (WalletPop, for example) and web sites promoting its customer's business, or organize a network of agents to vote stories about its customers to the top of the Digg list, or plant favorable reviews on Amazon, or create site after site praising its customers business in order to raise its Google ranking.

Google is particularly vigilant about fending off attempts to alter its search results, but these SEO companies are constantly looking for new ways to game the system. Digg is also in the fight of its life against companies such as uSocial.net.

The lesson to be learned here? Don't automatically buy the comments and reviews you read on the Internet. For example, one reviewer of Disaster Movie, widely considered the bomb of the year, wrote, "I really liked Disaster Movie and thought it was just as good as Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans!"

And if you read a WalletPop comment that sounds like a pitch, it probably is. Much as we try, some still leak through. Caveat Emptor, dude.

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