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.

Those damn Annual Performance Reviews

You and your managers pretend these are about developing you and recognising your achievements but all that’s really clear is that are they bollocks. What are they for? Who are they for? It’s not for you and it’s not for getting you more money. Annual performance reviews are about making some token nod toward remembering your name and then ignoring everything when it comes to deciding money.

There’s that thing where a third of your colleagues will fail, a third will do okay and there’s a top third that have to get by on some contrived glory ’cause they sure as hell aren’t getting paid more either.

Now, it’s easy for me to be cynical about these because I’m freelance and don’t have to have them. But for a decade or more I was freelance in the BBC where it was a requirement. I hated every single one – up to the moment I would have them, because they invariably went well. Nonetheless, I hated them more than dental appointments because of one review and one man from before my time at the Corporation.

He was an out-of-his-depth sort who managed a group of fairly awkward writers and me. Not awkward. I was glad to be there, I was doing what I wanted, I got that the job was to get what needed done and I got that the company didn’t owe me anything but the generous salary I had. I was fine. Others were not. So when he had to grade people, he gave the awkward ones good marks and in several cases promotions, and he stuck me with the bad marks because he knew I’d be fine about it.

Frankly, was I fuck. Every other review for every other person that year took about 30 minutes and I made mine take the day. Every single point on every single ridiculous metric, he low-balled it and I argued until I got each one up. Fight, fight, fight – and he won. While I got that review to be far better than he wanted it to be, it was the worst review of the set and I got no raise.

So, he didn’t managed to get the one easy ride he’d planned but he could do the tick that said he’d saved some money.

But of course he saved that yet he lost me. I never worked late again, never came in early again. Didn’t contribute to meetings, didn’t write as well as I had done. I do have trouble assessing the quality of my writing but I thought then that there was a fair chance I was his best writer or at least if there were better I can only think of one person it would be. Actually, thinking about it, yes, she was better than I was. But I’d stake a claim to second best and if you do a Google search now on the names I can remember you won’t find them. None had a writing career after that.

And I didn’t have another review with that guy because by the next year, I was long gone. I was off to an infinitely better job that led directly to my BBC career soon after. He could argue, I suppose, that he helped me there but he did some damage. There was not one single review I ever had anywhere else again that I didn’t go in ready for a fight. Never got one, not one single time: every other review ever was at least great and sometimes superb.

I don’t want to count how many years it is since this boiled me but I can tell you it’s a fair few minutes since I found a funny video about performance reviews and thought I’d point you at it. I think I might take a deep breath and do that next.

Vesper – minimalist note taking app comes to iPad

We have come such a long way from the original iPhone’s yellow Notes app with its very yellow pages and Comic Sans font. Did we mention yellow? Today’s Vesper, from Q Branch, does the same job — yet comes from the opposite end of the design spectrum with a plain, tasteful look and typography control. It’s also much faster than Notes ever was, and its syncing of individual notes is quicker than Evernote’s.

Now on both iPhone and iPad, what Vesper does is offer you a quick place to write text. It’s intended for short snippets, but you could do anything — from To Do lists to articles and chapters. Open it up, tap a button to get a new document, and start typing. You can also add photographs, and the app encourages you to pop tags in too. There are no predefined tags, it’s entirely your choice whether you use them at all, and what you call them when you do. Mark this note as being Work and that one as Home. Getting Things Done fans could add a tag they call Someday/Maybe, and then never look at it again.

Hands On: Vesper 2.005 (iOS) – William Gallagher, MacNN (18 March 2015)

Read the full piece, especially as I spent ages writing it. MacNN reviews tend to start from the basis of who-is-this-software-useful-to and I really like that. There’s no attitude beyond whether it does what it says and whether there are better alternatives.

That’s true even when there’s no especially logical reason for why an alternative is superior. This review is an example of exactly that. For Vesper is very, very good and you will certainly like it and probably love it if you were to buy it for your iPhone and iPad. Yet I simply prefer an alternative called Drafts 4. I’m writing this to you in Drafts 4; it has become my automatic place to write anything when I’m on my iPad.

I could point to features it has that Vesper doesn’t – but then I could point to features Vesper has that Drafts don’t. Some of which, such as Vesper’s excellent automatic syncing between iPad and iPhone, I would like Drafts to have.

There is a risk that you can say this stuff – X software is great but I prefer Y so there – and either be irritatingly obstructing your reader or just being so wishy-washy that you’re no use to anyone. I tend toward the wishy-washy, I’m afraid. But software is immensely, just immensely more personal than technical websites and journalists admit so I love that MacNN counts the feel of an app as being as relevant to mention as its feature list.

But also, Vesper is excellent. Go read the full pieceand see me enthuse.

David Bowie on creating things and moving on

I’m not sure why it feels like there’s been a spate of talks becoming animated cartoons, but here’s another one. The animation is fine, I think I’d just like to concentrate on the audio as it’s David Bowie being rather interesting about separating audience reaction from one’s own perception of a piece of your work.

Via Nackblog