Over the weekend, I had a thought regarding the Internet age adage “never read the comments” and product reviews. Aren’t reviews, in a sense, comments on a product? If we’re advised by the wise sages of the internets to not read them, how are we supposed to make what we feel as educated decisions on something that’s going to cost us time, money, or both?
Let’s start with comments.
I most always read the comments, or, at least the first few of them. Why? It’s the commentary, y’all!
In enough cases to warrant reading said comments, I’ve found enough enlightenment and details in back-and-forth discourse between commenters (and more fun if the original poster or author chimes in) to enrich the article, essay, diatribe, etc. The glaring exception is YouTube videos, which are riddled with spamvertisements.
I also use comments as a bellwether of the source document’s tone and agenda. You can tell a lot about an article by what chatter it stirs up in the digital pot, such as its reputation, its readership, and its (though I’ve grown to dislike this term) authenticity.
Now, for reviews.
As a general practice, whenever I see product reviews for something on, say, Amazon, I go and read both the “most recent” and “most helpful” sets to get a general consensus.
“Most recent” tells me whether there are problems or improvements that may affect my decision to buy this product. You see this a lot on the Apple App Store when a particular app pushes out an update. In that regard, low ratings due to past grumbling about quality or performance may now be fixed with a new version. It could also tell me whether the product has consistent problems back through time.
I take the “most helpful” reviews with a mighty strong grain of salt. There’s been quite an influx of “professional reviewers” getting paid to “gloss up” a product’s overall rating, and that unfortunately muddies up the waters. Professionally-written reviews are not always explicitly marked as such, but they always seem to have the same glossy platitudes in their writing style; they’re all trying to tell (or sell) the same story.
Here’s the flip side: I find that too many reviews are full of “complaint noise:” users or consumers who have no effective way of getting to the manufacturer or creator other than posting negative reviews, or, those who are confused or ill-informed about the proper use of what they purchased.
A good example I found just the other day is the Disney XD app for iOS, which I downloaded to watch the latest episode of Star Wars Rebels. A good percentage of the reviews were low- or one-starred. The 10 most recent reviews seemed to be written by a lot of tweens and teenagers looking to stream Disney XD shows but getting deflected by an internet service provider login or parental restrictions. Having an ISP and being a parent myself, I don’t have those obstacles and, as a result, their experiences aren’t reflective of my own.
OK, so comments are often noisy and argumentative and reviews suffer from authenticity issues and grumbling. Should we start saying “never read the comments or the reviews?”
I say “no.”
In this day and age, it’s good to see differing perspectives and opinions, so long as you, the reader, have the discipline to read objectively, not get pulled down in the abyss of petty arguments or controversies, and dive no deeper than page or two of the paginated results.
“Don’t give in to hate,” as Master Obi-Wan Kenobi once said.