Can You Trust User Ratings?

You’re shopping for a new HDTV (or anything else for that matter), and you do some research on the Web where you find lots of user ratings for various products. It’s hard not to be influenced by a lot of positive ratings, but be careful. User ratings are not always reliable.

I’ve written about this before, and it has been covered elsewhere. There’s the problem that people are emotionally invested in their choice; they have a need to show that they made a smart decision. But if they have had problems with the product, reseller, or manufacturer, they are likely to have an equally unreasonable negative reaction. And then there’s the whole problem with some manufacturers paying people to post positive reviews for their products.

Well, now there’s some more research on the topic. Technology Review reports on a new study that sheds some additional light on the subject. Researchers fond that a relatively small number of users are responsible for a disproportionate number of ratings. This can skew the results of the “communal wisdom”.

My advice is to take the star counts with a grain of salt, and ignore them completely if you can. Instead, focus on the specific features that are mentioned as being particularly good or bad, decide whether or not these are relevant to your needs, and then go about verifying whether the reports about those features are accurate. There’s no substitute for doing your homework, and you can’t rely on a group of Web user ratings to spend your money wisely for you.