Reflections on Fake Reviews and Review Credibility

Last month the New York Times ran this story on fake reviews all over the web.

I was a late comer to Angie’s list. You’ve probably been using it for years, so you already know what I just discovered. It has no anonymous reviews. How refreshing. And, how much more useful.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, Angie’s List is perhaps the best known site for listing local service providers in mainstream categories like home maintenance, doctors, nurses, auto repair, and so on. I paid $12 for a year’s worth in my home town, and another $20 for a year’s worth in a second location.

And I saw immediately what should have been perfectly obvious: having no anonymous reviews makes the site way more useful than any other site I’ve dealt with that has reviews. We were looking for air conditioning, and we found that what used to be a word-of-mouth headache was suddenly pretty easy. Having all the reviews identified means I end up believing that the ones with the best reviews are the best vendors.

Do you think that’s a good bet?

I use a lot of reviews these days as I choose hotels, restaurants, and what to buy. And I discount the obvious owner reviews even more than I do the obvious disgruntled customer and/or competitor reviews. On restaurants and hotel sites, my best indicator is not how many stars, but rather how many reviews there are. The restaurant with more than a thousand reviews averaging out to four stars looks better to me than the restaurant with two reviews averaging five stars. I assume that’s the owner and a best friend.

True confession: my brother has a novel listed on with five stars. You won’t find it if you look, because he uses a pen name; but there’s one single review for that novel, and you wouldn’t be able to tell this from the way the review is signed, and it doesn’t say it in the review, but I wrote it.

I hope more sites move away from anonymous reviews. I think that’s a great way to deal with all the gaming. If you don’t care enough to say who you are, I don’t want your opinion counted.

I hope it’s obvious to every business owner why gaming reviews is bad business ethics. And, perhaps more important, why it’s bad business: Because it’s going to come out. It will show.


  • Marshall Hatfield says:

    While Angie’s list does help cut down on the riff-raff of fake reviews notorious on sites like Google Places, Yelp,, and the 10,000,000 Internet Marketing / Make Money Online affiliate “review” sites,

    … even Angie’s is full of people gaming the system & folks willing to write fake reviews for cashola.

    In general, the struggle between internet anonymity & the credibility of one’s real name is quite a tricky one — especially for sites who’s value is totally predicated on the value of their user-created content.

    By my read, Wikipedia is full of “fake” articles – or poorly footnoted self-aggrandizing posts written by-the-author about-the-author … and of course Facebook is FULL of fake accounts on there to spam & self-promote.

    This challenge will remain a difficult one as long as people can make money by gaming these interweb social systems. A real doozie.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    Angie’s List isn’t used much in my area so it’s of incredibly limited use to me. I paid for a year and canceled because it was a ghost town.

    I don’t think reviews have to be attributed to an individual publicly, but I do abhor any indication of reviews being faked. On OpenTable all reviews are anonymous, but you had to have at least gone to the restaurant and OpenTable will mediate disputes between the restaurant and a reviewer. Yelp sticks out like a sore thumb because they are widely know to accept payment in exchange for burying bad reviews, and they offer a service that will post positive reviews to increase your rating. I am also highly skeptical of TripAdvisor because I know business owners who have unabashedly bribed people to do good reviews. At once such place I was given a card by the waitress with instructions for submitting a review on TripAdvisor, and it said if I came back and the restaurant could verify my positive review they would give me a freebie. At least on TripAdvisor I can see how many reviews people have done, and if they have only one and it’s five starts and consists of “bst place evar!”, I ignore it. Unfortunately it still counts toward the place’s rating, though, and that does make it a bit difficult to track down the better places.

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