Fake reviews: when S*** is not a three-star mark for the letter S

A friend told me recently that her new book just got two really, really good reviews on Amazon – but those reviews were deleted shortly afterwards. She’s reached out to Amazon but the company won’t tell her anything: it will only discuss reviews with the people who wrote the reviews. And reportedly it ain’t going to say much to them either. If Amazon, or more likely, some automated Amazon algorithm thinks a review is a fake then it’s deleted. So even Amazon knows fake reviews are a problem.

They would. We’ve already become suspicous of online reviews – not just on Amazon but everywhere – such that if something has five stars then we’re raising eyebrows. Intellectually, we know if something has just one star then that’s probably suspicious too but still we tend to believe it. We should watch that.

But the best outcome is that we tend to believe – to correctly believe – only middle-rating reviews. Which means over time that reviews are pointless to us: if you only trust the three-star ratings ones then reviews are no use to you because everything has three star ones somewhere.

So it would be better for all of us if we could trust reviews. We would buy more or at least buy more readily – which means it would be better for Amazon if we could trust reviews. Consequently the company is taging action. It’s just not working.

Have a read of The Wirecutter’s take on what’s happening, what Amazon is trying to do and what you can do about it yourself.

Skip the Next Crisis

I love the phrase “next crisis”: it’s a quote from Battlestar Galactica and in the context that’s in my head every time I say it, it’s about coping with storms and pressing on. My wife Angela Gallagher loathes it: she visibly winces every time I say it and to her I think it’s defeatist, maybe even revelling in defeat before having tried something. She’s right, I’m wrong.

That doesn’t mean I can shake the phrase or that I enjoy it any less, but we’re heading into the part of the year that is particularly busy for a lot of people and I found myself thinking the words so often that maybe it is damaging. For I can’t say I particularly noticed the summer but apparently others did because it went quiet for a while and now it’s all back getting busy, which has to be great, doesn’t it?

I have so much to do in September and October plus the tiny bit I’ve got arranged for November is pretty certain to balloon out. I’m a freelance writer and I live for my work so this has got to be a fantastic time for me: I hope it’s a fantastic time for you.

But I also hope that you don’t see what’s coming up as a series of crises. I’ve gulped at my calendar yesterday and actually it seemed an overwhelming thing, I wondered how I could do everything and I wondered if I could please go hide away for a bit.

Yes, you’ve got a lot on but if you don’t take time to enjoy it now, you never will. Hang on, that could be an idea for a film.

Reclaiming friendship

I spent the single most unproductive hour of my month having tea with a comparatively new friend. Wouldn’t have changed that for the world: there is something energising, nourishing, exciting about nattering over tea. If I did nothing in that hour – and I absolutely did nothing – then the hour after it was far more productive because of taking that time.

So I’m keen on tea. And there was cake this time: chocolate is my Kryptonite.

But there wa also friendship. I read somewhere that we tend to keep our friends for around seven years. I can think of people I’ve been close to for longer but I was a little reassured by this idea of natural moving on because I’ve lost a lot of pals and it could be argued that they tended to disappear on me after about that time. So it’s not me. And it’s not them.

I think it might be me, though. So I was taken with this piece from the always superb Brain Pickings:

We call “friends” peers we barely know beyond the shallow roots of the professional connection, we mistake mere mutual admiration for friendship, we name-drop as “friends” acquaintances associating with whom we feel reflects favorably on us in the eyes of others, thus rendering true friendship vacant of Emerson’s exacting definition. We have perpetrated a corrosion of meaning by overusing the word and overextending its connotation, compressing into an imperceptible difference the vast existential expanse between mere acquaintanceship and friendship in the proper Aristotelian sense.

Reclaiming friendship – Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – 16 August 2016

She’s talking about reclaiming the word friendship and I read that also as making a stand for how important friendship is. Being Brain Pickings, Popova does as ever gather insightful quotes and detail from great minds but also as ever, what she says herself is arresting. Have a read of her full piece.

Keep passing the open windows

That line, ‘keep passing the open windows’, is a quote that wrenches at me from John Irving’s novel, The Hotel New Hampshire. I’ve also used it cheaply as a gag about preferring Macs to PCs. But having now made that same gag and having now also quoted you a quote that I love in context, let me get on with it. Here’s a video that argues in favour of our just staring out of the window.

I tell you, I’m concerned because I see elderly people obsessing about the hundred metres square that they can see from a window and I don’t want to do that. But this quite serene video points out that in looking out of the window, you’re looking at so much more than you can see.

Do too much

Sounds like a plan to me. Jensen Karp – if he were any more famous you’d have heard of him – is a writer and producer who spoke with Fast Company about doing a gigantic amount of work at the same time. I read this and conclude he’s young. But give the article credit: it uses the word ‘myriad’ correctly.

Have a read of the full piece, will you?

Stop slouching

There’s a scary bit toward the start of this about how sitting is dangerous to our health but then it comes up with a term I could really get behind: “active sitting”. I’m listening.

Learn how long it takes you to wake up

If I told you that the average person needs seven to eight hours sleep per night, you would not rush to hit the Facebook share button. But what’s less well known, certainly by me, is that there is an amount of time we each take to wake up – and that’s it’s several hours.

I find that half reassuring, half miserable. Read Fast Company’s account of how to find out your time.

Confidence trick

The other night I was doing this thing, talking to university students about writing and we got on to how difficult it is to pitch to people. I offered that in so many ways it’s just like talking to people and said, for example, you didn’t find it hard asking me that question, did you? The young woman I gestured at said yes, she did. She wasn’t kidding: in that instant I could see the nerves.

But I wouldn’t have known before: she found me and she asked what she wanted to know. “Just keep pretending like that,” I told her. “It’s what I do.” For a longer, more considered and frankly more confident version, take a look at this TEDtalk from Dr Ivan Joseph.