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.

It’s come to this: firms having practice Twitter meltdowns

Jacobs is the kind of Silicon Valley founder that makes the rest of them look bad. He gets drunk in public, gropes women at the bar, and is having an affair with an unpaid intern. And to top it all off, he’s scheduled to speak at South by Southwest tomorrow — at a panel about women and technology.

Fortunately, Jacobs isn’t real — he’s a simulation organized by a company named Polpeo. Polpeo, a subsidiary of the social media management firm eModeration, specializes in a novel new corporate exercise: the simulated brand crisis. Police officers train for various crises all the time; so do airline pilots. But most corporations don’t — even as the rise of social networks allows bad news about them to spread globally at record speed. More than a quarter of brand-related failures typically go international within an hour on social media, according to Polpeo, and a year after the crisis passes, more than half of companies haven’t recovered their share price.

Protect the brand or die trying: inside a fake social media crisis – Casey Newton, The Verge (20 March 2015)

Read the full piece to see whether you’re convinced this is a real thing. And if it is, maybe it’s a shame because when companies blow up on Twitter you feel they’re showing us their real sides.

Airplane days, trains and pretend commutes

I read somewhere of a fella who goes flying in order to avoid phone calls. That’s excessive, even for me.

But having found that necessary business trips came with unexpected benefits from being out of contact with email and the web, he now regularly conjures up a cheaper and greener equivalent. He just decides that today is a Airplane Day and switches everything off.

Similarly, there are people who do pretend commutes. They have to be people who are working at home because otherwise their pretend and their real commutes would overlap, creating a paradox that might unfurl the entire space-time continuum. Granted, that’s a worst-case scenario.

But otherwise they do a real pretend commute. They ‘leave’ at the same time – they don’t go out of the house but they dress, they hurry to finish breakfast and down one last gulp of tea. And then they shut themselves away for 15 or 30 minutes. It’s usually the same length of time that they used to have as a genuine, real-life commute and usually I think it shortens a bit as the years go by and they’re under more pressure to work.

This is all about releasing and controlling and channelling pressure, though.

During a genuine, real-life commute, there isn’t much you can do. True, these days you can work on your phone or iPad, but you could also see those being nicked away from you.

So you read.

The news, a book, anything.

The fact that you cannot do anything else means you do it and for that 15 or 30 minutes, you’re calm.

It’s easy to do when you’re really commuting, it is much harder to make yourself have a pretend commute – but the benefits are the same. You start the working day ready and composed. You take in information, you learn things, you just enjoy thinking about different things. And for everyone, that’s fuel.

For us as writers, it’s the sand that becomes the pearl.

And I say this sitting on a train doing exactly the work I’d be doing at my home office. Well. I did read a book, though. Come on. I read all of it.

If you search for it, it will come

You’ve done this. You’ve searched eBay for something from your childhood – maybe Spangles, if they wouldn’t have gone off by now, maybe that particular blue-and-white-striped Cornishware teapot that your mother has asked you to find and by God you’ve searched every antique shop there is in existence and still there’s no sign of the bloody thing.

(There is, by the way. Look at TG Green’s website for genuine Cornishware stuff. I’d have found that several years sooner if I’d know that blue and white stripes are a Cornish thing. Who knew?)

But if I hadn’t found the real thing, there’s a good chance I would eventually have found the fake.

If enough people search for something on eBay, they will find it because it will be made for them.

“We send [manufacturers] data about what people are looking for on eBay and they respond and turn it around incredibly quickly,” president of eBay Marketplaces Devin Wenig told me. “We have a really big China export business to Europe and the United States. And they respond very, very quickly to consumer taste, whatever it might be. It’s really remarkable to see how quickly the manufacturing base adapts to the demand signals they get.”

In other words, that red wool-blend Cross Colours hat on eBay might not be the relic from 1989 it appears to be, but instead a newly manufactured replica. (It is, of course, against eBay’s policy to sell counterfeit items.) Yes, there’s a huge and thriving “new vintage” manufacturing sector built around—and tailored to— your online searches. It’s why, for instance, you can find something like an original 1960s-era Pan Am tote bag, and its new “vintage style” counterpart.

Why eBay Tells Chinese Manufacturers What You’re Searching For – Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic (6 August 2014)

Let’s do it. Let’s make up some fictitious 1980s craze and see if we can’t get it made for eBay. It’ll just be like a convoluted form of 3D printing.

Read LaFrance’s full piece for more.

I am not a number. I am a free (fictional) man

On April 8, 2013, I received an envelope in the mail from a nonexistent return address in Toledo, Ohio. Inside was a blank thank-you note and an Ohio state driver’s license. The ID belonged to a 28-year-old man called Aaron Brown—6 feet tall and 160 pounds with a round face, scruffy brown hair, a thin beard, and green eyes. His most defining feature, however, was that he didn’t exist.

I know that because I created him.

How to Invent a Person Online – Is it possible to be truly anonymous in the digital world? – Curtis Wallenjul, The Atlantic (23 July 2014)

It’s like a modern Day of the Jackal. A riveting and just a little bit eye-popping account of creating a fictitious persona. Do read the full article.