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Do You Rely On Social Reviews?

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When you go out and buy something, are you the type that does so without blinking twice, or do you need the reassurance of the crowd? When in a bookstore, do you get out your GoodReads app on your smartphone to verify or reject your instincts, afraid to be disappointed afterwards? Do you let hundreds of self-proclaimed experts voicing their opinion on Amazon influence your decision to buy a certain brand of TV? Do you refuse to walk in a restaurant without checking them out on Foursquare?

It’s sometimes hard to draw the line, isn’t it? Let’s see here, these are the opinionated voices I’ve at least once listened to:

  • GoodReads users;
  • local magazine columnists that review a book;
  • BoardGameGeek users;
  • local game store employees/owners;
  • Amazon users;
  • Steam users;
  • IGN/EuroGamer/Gamespot/… professional reviewers;
  • Foursquare users;

Roughly speaking, you could divide the above list into two camps: the professionals: journalists who review as part of their job, and the amateurs: random people on the internet who think it’s important to voice an opinion. Anyone who hangs out on Twitter or ridiculous comment zones of news sites knows that half of the latter group is just there to troll, so why listen to them? I’m trying to answer that question for myself.

For video games, I rarely listen to the crowd. This is simply because I’ve been gaming for a (too) long time, I perfectly know what my gaming taste is like, and I can usually judge pretty well whether or not I’ll like a game, based on the screenshots and trailers. I think that’s experience speaking. I do read up on reviews from professionals because (1) I like to be up-to-date, and (2) when in doubt, I’ll listen to their advice. I do still love reading about playthroughs from amateurs (blogs etc) and sometimes let myself be influenced by that.

For general electronics, I just don’t care enough. I usually go for a well-respected brand but mostly don’t bother sorting through reviews, unless they’re unanimously bad. There are simply too many sorts of dishwashers and TVs and vacuum cleaners out there for me to care: they’ll all do the dishes, play a video, and help clean the house. We did pay attention to power and water usage.

For board games, my opinion correlates with the BGG score. For me, the problem with board games is that you never really know if you like it unless you’ve played it at least once. Also, I’ve been tricked before into buying (1) cool looking boxes that ultimately sucked and (2) things that local game store employees wanted me to buy but ultimately sucked. I somewhat know what sorts of games I like to play, but here, I have to take more variables into account: does it play well alone or with two, will my wife or gaming group like it, is the box too big, will I still enjoy it after replaying more than 20 times, … I somehow find the decision to take much harder than buying a video game. Furthermore, the BGG community is—mostly—very friendly and passionate, so trolling should occur less often.

For books, that’s difficult as well. I’ve been relying on GoodReads for more than 10 years now, and every time I don’t, I end up with a book that I give up on after 100 pages. For instance, I like fantasy fiction, and those books are easily spotted, but can drag on for too long and have the tendency to get too many sequels. I do let my intuition guide me first, but like to double-check by asking the crowd. I know less dedicated and good book reviewers than I know game reviewers, and the single opinion of a columnist has misled me before. The problem with a mediocre book is that it wastes space on the bookshelf!

Sometimes though, you just know you don’t need to look up someone else’s opinion. Those books/games/whatever never disappoint afterwards.

For every book I’ve read from 2015 until a few months ago, I’ve even submitted a GoodReads review myself. And yet, I want to leave GoodReads behind. Why? Because of that small percentage of people that ruins everything for the rest of us: the trolls—or should I call it, the social media effect?

There is no way do disable commenting on a review you’ve posted. I hate some followers (that I don’t even know) who “like” every single thing I do there. The new layout is hideous. The effort I’m putting into maintaining a profile there is without a doubt being misused by GoodReads owner Amazon. But the thing that shocked me the most was actually a response from an author to a 1/5 review I wrote. His response to my admittedly poorly written review was quite aggressive. I tried mending things by saying I appreciated his comments, but got another weird answer:

[…] In case you didn’t think this far, you can’t read the book again since you actually never read it in the first place. I am happy that you gave me the opportunity to highlight your unfounded “advice” to others and potential ding on my work and reputation. That you don’t intend to “breeze through the book” again is a reassurance for which I thank you.

Uh, okay? The author waited for five years to comment on my review. I have no idea why, but I don’t ever want to experience something like this again. Of course I didn’t want to “ruin his reputation”, I just wanted to log that I didn’t like the book.

Now, the IndieWeb movement would surely say: “Publish on your blog!”, and I’d agree, that’s why I wrote a piece on Richardson’s chocolate book. But I don’t think I’ll have something interesting to say about every book I read, which is why I decided to simply write down my thoughts on books in my own journal. Sorry authors, access denied.

But by doing that, I also refrain from adding my “score” to the GoodReads community. That means I’ll become a lurker, someone who looks up books and scores but doesn’t contribute to them. That doesn’t entirely feel right either. I don’t have a good solution for this. I could:

  • Completely stop caring about GoodReads and just go with my gut when purchasing/lending books;
  • Only add a rating without text/comments and throw out all followers;
  • Ignore the trolls and keep on trucking;
  • ???

The fact that Amazon owns GoodReads is another thing that bothers me a bit. For BoardGameGeek, I try not to grade a game unless I’ve played it at least 5 times. However, the question remains the same: do I add context or not? Most game designers are part of the community and happily answer rule related questions on the forums. Careful consideration should take place before publicly writing a bad review. I guess most social reviewers completely ignore that part (“It suxx! 1/10!"). Let’s try to ignore pathetic practices like review bombing… (Another reason to quit partaking in social reviews).

I think getting rid of GoodReads might be liberating. I did so with Foursquare long ago: it completely ruined the adventurous sense of discovery. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll ever want to buy a board game without checking it out on BoardGameGeek first. Does this make my opinion on the topic inconsistent? I don’t know.

Perhaps I should stop pulling out my phone inside the store. That alone will probably calm my mind.

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I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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