An article on online reviewers has prompted me to get off my ass and write up some thoughts that have been percolating in my head for a few days.
If you are an enthusiastic consumer, there is no shortage of opportunities for you to write up reviews of the products you love or hate. Epinions has built a business out of hosting reviews. For Amazon, reviews are one advantage that it has over bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. And there are lots of other venues for reviews.
In some ways, though, a blog would be a better tool for writing reviews: you own the review, not the site hosting it. You’ve got all your reviews together in one place. Once you wrote the review, though, you’d want people to be able to see it at Amazon (or wherever), so there would need to be a review-aggregation mechanism. Austin Bloggers already works this way, more or less. I have Movable Type set up so that whenever I write a post in the “Austin” category, my blog pings Austin Bloggers, and Austin Bloggers creates a link back to my blog. And with All Consuming (which is very cool), we’ve got the nucleus of something like this happening.
But this is an area where the blogosphere needs to move forward if blogs are going to become a vehicle for reviews. Let’s look at what needs to happen:
- Review profiles
- Currently, blogs are set up as general-purpose writing tools: they don’t have specific fields for specific bits of information. Movable Type is going to come out with a “Pro” version that will support custom fields. I think of a set of custom fields as a “profile,” and I think this is the next thing in blogging. Bloggers writing reviews will need a “review profile” in their blogs with fields for the item code and rating.
- There needs to be some uniform way to refer to the product. This could be something like a uniform product code or an ASIN (though I don’t think this would work for movies). And there needs to be a standard way to enter this and publish this in a blog. As a practical matter, there might need to be multiple identification schemes; you would identify both the item and the scheme (eg, “this product code 12345, and I am using the Amazon standard identification number scheme”).
- Ratings vocabulary
- Not everyone uses the same scale for ratings. Some would give a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down. Others would give several numeric ratings for different aspects of a single product. In order for what review aggregation to work, there needs to be a uniform ratings vocabulary. Again, there should be a standardized field for this.
- Aggregation API
- Amazon already has a public API. There should be a mechanism for pinging Amazon (or whoever) “hey, I’ve written a review” so that it can aggregate your review into it’s product listings. Although All Consuming is run by an Amazon employee, even reviews posted there do not get into the Amazon database.
- Feedback mechanism
- Amazon makes it possible to indicate whether a review-reader finds a review helpful; Epinions goes further, and lets the reader write a review of the review. There would need to be something like trackback to get this information back into your review.
In theory, all this data structuring could be avoided if the aggregating entities used million-dollar search instead of million-dollar markup. It might be possible to just include a reference to an ASIN in a blog entry, ping Amazon, and have it figure out “hey, that’s a review of such-and-such” and to further use natural-language processing to figure out whether I liked it or not.