News and Tribune

Opinions

June 6, 2014

STAWAR: This column is up for review

— For months, people in Jeffersonville have been speculating about the economic impact of the Big Four Bridge. I’m not sure what this will eventually be, but that frozen yogurt shop right where the ramp to the pedestrian and cycling bridge ends is a stroke of genius. I’ve been wondering what bridge users really think about it, so I consulted TripAdvisor.com.

TripAdvisor is arguably the world’s largest social travel website. It claims more than 32 million members, and millions of travelers have used its opinions to plan trips. The heart of the site is its 100 million reviews of places to stay, places to eat and things to do. The site is free and it was one of the first to rely upon user-generated content.

How did the bridge fare? Currently, there are 116 reviews and the bridge ranks 14th out of 76 Louisville attractions. More than 93 percent of the reviews rated the attraction as excellent or good, 4 percent rated it average and less than 3 percent gave it a poor or terrible rating. On a ranking app for smart phones (Yelp), there are 20 reviews and the bridge is given a rating of 4.5 stars out of five.

Reading through the reviews , the aspects that people liked most about the bridge were the scenic view, the opportunity for exercise, the fact that it’s an enjoyable walk, family friendly, free and a great venue for bikes.

Bicycles, however, also show up in the handful of negative postings with one reviewer saying, “It’s hard to leisurely walk with family and friends when Lance Armstrong Jr. is about to run you down.”

Other critical reviewers complained about a lack of security, dog poop (before the no pet rule), drug dealing, panhandling, ugly views and scarce parking on the Kentucky side. Before the Indiana side was complete, there also was a lot of grousing about that.

People have less face-to-face interaction today so sharing opinions a been replaced largely by online reviewing sites. In addition to travel, there are online reviews for virtually everything, from health care to college teachers and courses. My wife Diane and I used the bedbug registry to check hotels before we visited New York City.

Instead of asking friends for their opinion, today we are more likely to look online to see what total strangers have to say about a restaurant or hotel we’re considering. Just recently, Diane and I looked at online reviews three times. We were trying to find cabins for a weekend trip, but TripAdvisor let us down, as there were no reviews for the places we were considering. We had heard a positive word-of-mouth comment, so we are taking a chance on it anyway.

We also looked at the reviews for places to take our grandchildren ziplining. After reading reviews, we abandoned our original choice and decided upon another place. What made the difference were graphic descriptions of injuries and a terrifying photo showing someone’s stapled ankle. We opted for a place that featured platform landings rather than ground ones.

We also looked up a local restaurant that we had not yet tried. There were only a few very negative reviews. I told Diane that they sounded too similar. I wondered if they were from the same person, who had some ax to grind against the place. Based on the reviews, however, we probably won’t take the risk and go there.

How much are we to trust such reviews? Are they honest or just some crank, disgruntled employee, psychopathic ex-husband or devious competitor trying to ruin a reputation? It has been estimated that 15 percent of social media reviews are fake and several companies have prosecuted for “astro-turfing,” which means faking grassroots support.

According to Eric Clemons from University of Pennsylvania, people don’t review things they find merely satisfactory. “They evangelize what they love and trash things they hate.”

TripAdvisor has been repeatedly sued to take down defamatory postings and Yelp was recently sued for allegedly shaking down potential advertisers, saying that they could make unflattering reviews disappear, if they advertised on Yelp.

Time reporter Katy Steinmetz and Consumerist.com writer Ben Popken have described several ways people can identify fake reviews. Among these are: 1. The use of language that reads like advertising copy, employing marketing buzz words; 2. Reviews with similar wording; 3. Emotional reviews loaded with superlatives; 4. Lack of pros and cons; 5. Short positive reviews; 6. If you Google search a phrase and it pops up all over, it’s probably fake; Five and one star reviews are most likely to be fake; 8. An overabundance of personal pronouns; 9. Keywords suggest a fake review. For hotels these are: “price,” “stay,” “nice,” “deal” and “comfort. For restaurants, they include: “options,” “seat,” “helpful,” “overall,” “serve” and “amount.”; 10. Inappropriate use of figurative language; and finally, 11. a reviewer name followed by numbers may indicate an automated program is generating the review.

I been using these suggestions to assess the News and Tribune’s “Cheers and Jeers” comments, which are similar to reviews, and overall they do very well. Of course, many of us still live by the belief that, if it’s in the newspaper — or on the Internet — it just has to be true.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com

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