I love user reviews as they have the potential to offer an honest, non-marketing hype, review of a product, place or service.
Amazon has offered customer reviews for years and I have bought products based on a good oval showing and a few particularly useful individual comments.
User reviews do tend to fixate on bitchily minute details or meander to completely irrelevant, personal anecdotes. Kanellos humorously summarizes the innate problems:
The Internet has ushered in a new era of human interconnectedness and will likely radically transform industry, scientific research and the structure of society. It's also made us into a bunch of old ladies. Perhaps no other time in human history has there been so much nitpicking. All you have to do is troll a site like Yelp.com for a few minutes to find a cavalcade of complaints disguised as constructive criticism or--just as bad--positive, and largely tangential, compliments… It's like meeting the global community, and finding out they are all my mother.
User reviews have also been co-opted by either the company being reviewed or users with a hidden agenda.
For example, we love TripAdvisor and have used it for years, generally with good results. I think initially there were only helpful travellers using it, but now I think companies have finally discovered it and are trying to skew it.About four months ago, we went to a resort in Mexico. We had to read a lot of reviews to find some that were not just travel memoirs or useless marketing hype. When we returned, my wife wrote a review with some positive and negative details – within minutes my wife’s review was labeled by a handful of “users” as unhelpful. I’m convinced, though I can’t prove it, that the company had its PR staff monitoring this and burying anything remotely negative. It isn’t conceivable that there were that many people, within minutes, who would have been checking out that review and would have voted it unhelpful.
The idea of flagging helpful reviews or rating them is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff. But there needs to be some sort of IP tracking to prevent companies from skewing results.
I don’t know many people and of the few people I know there’s no one in the same boat as me in terms of life stage nor do they share the same tastes as me, so user reviews offer an excellent source of advice - that doesn't come from my mother.