How Fair Are Recommendation Engines Really?
Kimberly Henry, a cosmetic surgeon in Greenbrae, Calif. has filed a lawsuit to stop critics from posting bad reviews about her work on such sites as Yelp and DoctorScorecard.com, according to the Marin Independent Journal.
She is seeking injunctions against at least 12 online reviewers, who have posted scathing accounts of her work. Henry joins the small businesses that have filed suit against Yelp alleging that the site tried the extort money from them by buying advertising in return for removing negative reviews.
She also joins T & J Towing, who has sued a Western Michigan University student who formed “Kalamazoo Residents against T & J Towing” group on Facebook. Justin Kurtz launched the site in February after his car was towed from the apartment complex where he lives.
Unless these negative reviews are outright lies, it is debatable whether these suits have legal merit. A law that has been proposed in Congress – national anti-SLAPP legislation – would make them even more difficult. But it is easy to see both sides of the debate: a small business especially one unfairly portrayed in social media, can suffer economic harm. Consumers, though, have every right to broadcast if they have had a poor experience with a company.
Perhaps because of this unsolvable debate, recommendation engines are coming under greater scrutiny. Questions about their fairness and algorithms are growing – with alternative systems becoming available that are more transparent, Forbes writes. “To date there’s been little explanation as to why and how we should trust these modern review and ranking services, and even less investigation into what really makes a review reliable,” it said.
After it was accused of extortion Yelp began moving in the direction in which a series of services have gone – one that favors more transparent ranking algorithms, Forbes said. These include Quora, which uses votes from people you know; Stack Overflow, which factors votes that hold more value from experts in certain topics and Digg, which uses a weighted ranking system.
Then there are sites like Glassdoor.com, a career website where employees can anonymously dish about their workplaces. Now it is letting employers tell their side of the story on the site for a price, writes the Wall Street Journal.
Dealing with Negative Online Word-of-Mouth
May 5, 2010
Avoiding knee-jerk reactions
Consumers both praise and criticize retailers on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. It is the negative comments, though, that test retailers’ ability to manage customer relationships in a dynamic, always-on and fragmented environment.
“Social media amplifies the voice of disgruntled customers and makes it easy for others to jump on the bandwagon if they can relate to the pain,” said Jeffrey Grau, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report “How Retailers Handle Negative Buzz on Social Media Sites.” “The potential for negative to buzz to escalate into mass criticism puts pressure on retailers to react quickly.
“To avoid a knee-jerk response, retailers need to take a strategic view of customer relationship management on the social Web,” he said.
A cornerstone of retailers’ approach is cultivating customer advocates. That means finding support in the retailer’s fan base, and according to Dynamic Logic and Millward Brown, retailers are the industry most likely to be followed by US social network users.
Many instances of negative buzz circulated by a person or a group stem from age-old retail problems such as poor communications, marketing blunders, operational snafus and bad customer service. Multichannel retailers can prove especially vulnerable, as large chains have more touch points between customers and store employees, providing ample opportunities for things to go wrong.
By contrast, online pure plays have more experience developing, embracing and connecting with their Internet customers.
“Once a retailer is criticized on its Facebook page or a similar social venue, it has three basic options: respond to the criticism, stay silent (perhaps to allow loyal customers to come to its defense) or remove the negative comments when possible,” Mr. Grau said.
“Retailers should have a plan in place and respond according to whether the problem is an isolated event or situation, a systemic problem or a personal issue, such as with a disgruntled customer who has a need for attention or a desire to bait the retailer,” he said.