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Monday, September 21, 2009

Is the wisdom of crowds for the gullible?

A lot is made about the importance of word-of-mouth as a means of informing the decisions of older consumers. The connection is often made between WOM and the user generated commentary that litters web sites from delighted or aggrieved purchasers.

An academic in Portugal (Vassilis Kostakos) has been digging around in the voting patterns on Amazon, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and the book review site BookCrossings.

He and his team looked at hundreds of thousands of items and millions of votes across the three sites. In each case, they found that a small number of users accounted for a large number of ratings. For example, only 5% of active Amazon users cast votes on more than 10 products. A handful of users voted hundreds of items.

If you have two or three people voting 500 times," says Kostakos, the results may not be representative of the community overall. He suspects this may be why ratings often tend toward extremes. I reckon you are right!

One of the suggestions, accompanying this research, is that the number of time a person has voted/commented should be shown (assuming this is technically possible). Sounds like a good idea.

I guess we all know that whenever we see a “research result” that results from some informal online poll that the answer must be skewed because the types of people that respond to such things are not ‘normal’. Good to see some research that proves that’s true. Dick Stroud

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