Talking to our beta users has raised an interesting point when we ask them about Peer review in ode: when shopping online many of them look for bad reviews first as a quick assessment of whether to continue to be interested in purchasing a product or service. They don’t look for the good, at least to start with.

And I thought: Hmm, I do too. In fact I realised take a perverse delight in reading 1/10 rated reviews. In a newspaper weekend review section it’s the plays/gigs/bands that get slammed that I go out of my way to read.

I like the vitriol, the scathing tones, the imaginative put downs. I always want to know “Why did that album/hotel/book get 2 stars out of 5?”

When clicking an Ebay users feedback profile is anyone else’s eye drawn to any single bad comment amongst hundreds of positive “A++++++ awesome!!!!” comments before anything else? And then you think “well, they might have 98% positive feedback but that guy thought delivery was slow“. Modern paranoia dictates that my next thought will be: “And will that happen to me?”

I would rather read “The 100 worst reviewed movies of all time” than the “The 100 best reviewed movies of all time” any day of the week.

Thanks to the explosion of opinion making all over the web do we now need to see 100% positive commentary before we’re prepared to offer our trust (and money)?

I tend to skim the positive comments. Illogically I think “how can I trust them?”, “how do I know what their standards are?” and focus on the review that found the “sea view” was actually only viewable just beyond a septic tank, or that “close to beach” was correct if you don’t mind their definition of beach being “local builders sand pit” and so on. Of course some people think this is nitpicking.

Perhaps this mistrust of positive spin is also driven by the ease with which the internet gives product owners the ability to review their own products favourably. But not for much longer it seems.

Although if someone scores something extremely highly e.g 9.7 out of 10, I will read that too. So maybe it’s the alpha and omega scoring that is attractive. Who’s interested that something is “quite good” or “satisfactory”? Who cares, Fence Sitter!

I guess I hunger for the truth in my purchasing decisions and negativity seems more honest somehow. Even if I know logically it shouldn’t make much difference at all. Maybe this is why Ebayers are so defensive about their feedback ratings it’s spawned an industry.

We all use products or services that seem specifically designed to annoy us with their uselessness (you must see Seth Godin’s “This is broken” presentation) . But I’m guessing we don’t all leave reviews everytime this happens (we’d be writing forever).

So to leave negative comments against something, even behind the neutrality that the web provides us, is a serious statement of intent. Perhaps this is why they seem so much more real then a happy, positive review.

A single bad review, even up against many good reviews, will more often than not cause me to pause before making a purchase (perhaps mitigated by cost). Or let me put it like this – if there are two balanced, well written reviews against a product/service you are are considering buying, one negative and one positive, are you more or less likely to buy it?

Certainly it will make me look for commentary on the product elsewhere. All this consumer info has made me into an arch procrastinator, a flip flopper, a weakling who can’t make an immediate purchasing decision online. I can delay a purchase for weeks as I mull the reviews over and over, trying to find a cohesive overarching argument for or against, that I put together in my head, cribbed from many different resources.

Logically I know that one bad review doesn’t mean all X company’s deliveries will be late, that all X brand stereos will arrive without that lead, that X hotel’s broken air con won’t be fixed by the time I arrive. But it might do.

After all, no one ever learnt anything from a compliment, right?