Monday, May 16, 2011

The false economies of web reviews

Ever wonder why you never really read a negative review of a product on websites? I used to. In fact, I fell victim to purchasing a few less-than-spectacular products based on reviews posted on websites I trusted.

Take, for example (because this is really easy), any of the books by Timothy Ferriss. In particular, the book "The 4-Hour Body" is notable given the large amount of online hype it generated, particularly on high-traffic websites like gizmodo, and (where it got a full week of excerpts and glowing reviews). Unfortunately, most serious book critics - like the NYT - considered the book to be nothing more than a laughable bad joke. Why, then, the disparity?

First of all, we should acknowledge that in addition to being a confirmed narcissist (based on his own writing), and a likely sociopath, Timothy Ferriss has been called the greatest self-promoter in the world by Wired Magazine in 2008. The guy clearly has a forcible personality which, coupled with nearly delusional lifehacking writings can sell lotsa books.

The bigger issue here is how advertising on the web is structured, particularly as it relates to product reviews. See that link to Amazon to purchase "The 4-Hour Body" (please don't click it). If you were foolish enough to actually buy this book, I would get a cut of the sale. Big websites like gizmodo and lifehacker make gobs of money this way, so tend to put out positive reviews of products so that people reading will click the linky-link and buy the product.

This is why I wanted to review this book here briefly: don't buy it, it's shit. And also to point out that you can't trust online reviews, even from great sources - they're all tainted by the almighty dollar.

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