Do You Trust User Reviews on the Web?

By  |  Monday, January 19, 2009 at 9:55 pm

T-PollMore scuttlebutt continues to emerge in the case of the glowing reviews for Belkin products that turned out to be written by a glowing-review mill set up by a Belkin employee. The Daily Background, which broke the story in the first place, has found evidence that the Belkin staffer who was apparently behind the scam was also publishing favorable reviews under multiple accounts. And Gizmodo has published an incendiary e-mail, supposedly from an ex-Belkin employee, that charges the company with making crummy products and then engaging in an array of sleazy practices, including posting negative reviews of competitors’ products, engaging in rigged demos at trade shows, supplying bloggers with products that sported custom, non-standard firmware, and paying off magazines to publish favorable reviews.

I have no information on whether any or all of the charges in the Gizmodo letter are true, but my instinct is to be skeptical about the notion of Belkin (or any company) paying magazines for positive coverage. When I worked at PC World, Belkin networking equipment sometimes performed well in our tests; I hope it goes without saying that we said we liked it because we did like it.

Much of the coverage I’ve seen of Belkingate, including comments here on Technologizer, has been from jaded folks who have said that lots of companies game user-review systems, and therefore user reviews simply don’t provide reliable advice. (Speaking of PC World, here’s a story it published after I left investigating the issue.) Time for a quick T-Poll–feel free to leave further thoughts in comments:



4 Comments For This Post

  1. Lance Jungmeyer Says:

    It’s all too common to see fake reviews, and fake comments on “helpful” articles. However, most people can see through the fake PR write-ups that pass as reviews and comments. At least I can tell, for the most part. Generally, it’s entry level hacks writing these things, and it shows.

  2. Jeff Says:

    No, I do not generally trust reviews on the web.

  3. Vulpine Says:

    While I can’t claim to be able to spot fake comments as well as Lance, above me, I do know that some sites tend to be much more reliable than others. It also doesn’t hurt to actually talk face to face with people who have the product you’re interested in; it makes for a more reliable opinion.

    I admit that as of this comment I have not read the Gizmodo letter. However, I find it hard to believe, given Belkin’s former reputation as a solidly reliable product, that they would have a need to pad their reviews in the manner described unless things have changed drastically over the years. In all honesty, even now every Belkin product I’ve owned has performed better than the products I replaced with them.

    With that in mind, if we assume that the letter writer on Gizmodo truly was a former Belkin employee, then I believe that person is a disgruntled employee that didn’t like getting laid off, or may even be the person guilty of doing the padding in the first place.

    Companies live and die on their reputations. If a brand has a reputation for making poor products, sales are going to be minimal. Compaq, and a few other brands were clear examples of this. If a company has a reputation for a superior product, then sales will be good and customer satisfaction ratings will be high; as exemplified by Apple. This doesn’t mean things can’t change. Over the decades you can see where brands that were once considered unimpeachable are now questionable as to whether they should even remain in business. Belkin may fall under this last possibility. I–for one–don’t think so.

  4. Dave Barnes Says:

    On the Consumer Reports website, you have to be a paid subscriber to review products. Pretty difficult to game that system.

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