Online yellow pages get social: What about 'review fraud'?

What are the inherent risks merchants face when exposing themselves to “user-generated content.

“Cox Search is getting ready to launch new city-specific versions of Kudzu.com, its hybrid Yellow Pages/Review site, in San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas this fall,” Peter Krasilovsky reports.

In addition to geographic expansion, Kudzu is offering “plenty of new features”:

a “talk back” feature for merchants that have been reviewed…So far, most of the “talk back” appears to be positive, but sometimes, it…isn’t. One reviewer, for instance, gave Rk Heating & Air Conditioning a single star on Kudzu’s five-star system and urged readers to “be careful when dealing with this company. They will threaten lawsuits against you.” RK talk backed that the reviewer “does not have anything better to do than slamming people. We have contacted our attorney today and will be taking legal actions against her for slandering our business!” Maybe the drama will draw recreational readers in, a la Craig’s List.

Krasilovsky highlights the inherent risks merchants face when exposing themselves to “user-generated content.”

Greg Sterling has warned of the risks of “review fraud”:

As user reviews and other forms of user-generated content become a bigger phenomenon online so does the prospect of what might be called "review fraud…Having some system in place (that isn't too Byzantine) to ensure the integrity of reviews is going to be important as more marketers try and "game the system."

Shrewd online yellow pages publishers themselves, however, aim to “game the system” from the get-go. The Superpages.com “user reviews” feature, for example, is designed to engender positive feedback.

The Superpages.com “Rate this business” online form is pre-populated with six “merchant-friendly” "review summary” clickable choices:

  • Notably good service experience
  • Can count on them
  • On time and on budget
  • A local favorite of mine
  • Good quality for the price
  • The best decision I ever made!

Additionally, Superpages.com offers the following “Tips for Writing a Review”:

Keep in mind, positive recommendations are more valuable. Most people prefer businesses others have chosen - and Superpages.com is the place to find and share the businesses you use or have used, and like or would use again.

Some examples:

"I needed a custom tabletop for my kitchen island, but I didn't know how to draw it. Joe's Carpentry took care of everything by helping me with the design; recommending reasonably priced but nicer materials; cutting, building and installing it."

"My sagging fence needed help and Joe's Fencing responded quickly, straightened some of it and replaced some of it, all at a very reasonable price."

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