February 17, 2004 10:26 AM   Subscribe

A concerned reader in St. Louis just might be Dave Eggers. A weekend glitch on Amazon Canada allowed people to see the true secret identities behind reviews on the site. [NYT Link]
posted by drezdn (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Think they're giving "reviews" too much credit. Several sentences describing a book is like judging it by it's cover. You know the title, author and possible book plot plus, "a good read". When reading it tells all.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2004

Totally highschool.
posted by xmutex at 10:43 AM on February 17, 2004

O.K., Miguel, I think you should give up, confess and repent now...

btw, Eggers _was_ childish. but after all he was defending his wife, I cannot really blame him. I like to think that maybe he wouldn't have done it if it was his own book. but sometimes we can get kind of overzealous defending the people we love
posted by matteo at 10:50 AM on February 17, 2004

Given the amount of money an early, positive review might mean, it'd be shocking if authors or publishers didn't try to give themselves a boost. If a system can be trivially and anonymously gamed, it probably will be.
posted by callmejay at 10:53 AM on February 17, 2004

I'd still like to know who Henry Raddick is.
posted by brownpau at 10:55 AM on February 17, 2004

Hi Dave if you're reading this, BUSTED!!

... I like that Eggers admitted to it when asked, tho. And replied to it in print through email, especially. Few would admit, I'd think, since it really is the -tackiest- thing possible. I wonder how many people write reviews for themselves on amazon!?

Of course, to be snarky, Eggers sort of wrote his own glowing Amazon review with the navel-gazing title of his big memoir.
posted by Peter H at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2004

Wait, that's Eggers's wife?
posted by xmutex at 11:04 AM on February 17, 2004

Another first-rate paper doll book from Tierney, this time of the first family. All of the clothes are marvelous, but nothing says "oderint dum metuant" quite like stack-heeled cowboy boots with a tux.

I love Henry Raddick.
posted by homunculus at 11:13 AM on February 17, 2004

A lot of the reviews come from sales and marketing departments it as free publicity and they have no problem creating reviews it is part of their paid job to do so.

A better system is one like Cool Tools which has a much higher credibility and signal to noise ratio. Basically, it is a moderated recommendation list.
posted by stbalbach at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2004

But even with reviewer privacy restored, many people say Amazon's pages have turned into what one writer called "a rhetorical war," where friends and family members are regularly corralled to write glowing reviews and each negative one is scrutinized for the digital fingerprints of known enemies.

I wonder how many people write reviews for themselves on amazon!?
The authors defended themselves by saying, the Internet, where anyone from your mother to your ex-agent can anonymously broadcast an opinion of your work, has created a more urgent need for self-defense.

Is this the ethical way about doing it?
posted by thomcatspike at 11:20 AM on February 17, 2004

an alternate and non ny times link - here at the observer.
posted by triv at 11:22 AM on February 17, 2004

I'm really Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:25 AM on February 17, 2004

Eggers has been passing off lame, disingenous writing as legitimate for years--how is this any different?
posted by dhoyt at 11:34 AM on February 17, 2004

I'm really Newt Gingrich.
posted by eastlakestandard at 11:36 AM on February 17, 2004

47 out 56 people found the following review helpful:

***** (five stars) "fierce and rewarding - the best metafilter thread of the year!", February 16, 2004

Reviewer: A reader from St. Louis, MO
This metafilter thread evokes the work of other great community weblog threads of the past ten or twenty years, while still saying something new and interesting. A strong new, literary, Internet thread-scribing voice!

Was this review helpful to you? (Yes) (No)
posted by Peter H at 12:00 PM on February 17, 2004


posted by linux at 12:17 PM on February 17, 2004

a more urgent need for self-defense

I doubt it. On Amazon UK at least, ratings are almost invariable skewed upward by anonymous and pseudonymous 5* reviews - particularly ones that seem to be posted specifically to argue the toss with negative reviews posted shortly before.

The other promotional tactic, I strongly suspect, is authors and their cronies clicking "no" to "Was this review helpful to you?" on all the negative comments, so that positive ones appear as the header reviews.

If it were up to me, I'd tweak the weighting, so that negative reviews - always a persecuted minority - contributed more toward the rating score. But then Amazon are in the business of selling books, not givng accurate assessments of whether books are worth reading.
posted by raygirvan at 12:25 PM on February 17, 2004

Judging from their reviews of CDs, 90% of them are written by fan bois, so why would anyone take them that seriously?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:40 PM on February 17, 2004

Following that Raddick link led me to this non-Raddick review of a book called You Can Teach Your Dog to Eliminate on Command:

I was bitterly disappointed with this book as I thought it would help my terrier learn to kill on command instead of controlling his number two's. The editor should have given this publication a clearer title to avoid confusion.

posted by dobbs at 12:47 PM on February 17, 2004

Funny, I was just thinking about possibly doing something like this last week (anonymously becoming "a reader from Sheboygan" or "a yachtsman in Des Moines"). I was frustrated because Amazon won't change something on my book's page. They've decided that an author's comment I made about my book, when I was trying to correct a mistake Amazon had made about a previous printing, is a review. Since I didn't give myself any stars (even if I would have, it's not an option on the author's coments form), it brought my average way down. Three 5-star comments, one 0-star comment.

If anybody out there knows Dave Eggers, ask him to blurb me as well.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:05 PM on February 17, 2004

Heidi Julavits isn't Dave Eggers's wife.

However, Vendela Vida, the other editor of The Believer is Dave Eggers's wife.

Neither of them can write worth crap, which may be where the confusion arises. And they both have "v" in their names.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:12 PM on February 17, 2004

What pyramid termite just said.
posted by deadcowdan at 1:15 PM on February 17, 2004

hehe, interesting article. i loved this paragraph:

The feminist author Katha Pollitt mentioned in a recent New Yorker article that she had considered anonymously posting a nasty review on her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend's Amazon page, but refrained from doing so. In an interview, however, she said she had chastised a friend whose book had no reviews on Amazon when it came out, telling her to have friends to post some. The friend followed her advice, but Ms. Pollitt was disappointed. "I'm thinking what kind of friends are these? They've only written one sentence."
posted by lotsofno at 1:17 PM on February 17, 2004

What's shocking to me is not that celebriscribes like Eggers would manipulate Amazon's "review" system, but rather that anyone would care. Over here in my ignorantly blissful universe, I didn't think anyone even read those, let alone made a purchasing decision based on them...
posted by JollyWanker at 2:04 PM on February 17, 2004

Eggers haters aside, this is an interesting issue from the other direction as well: writers giving bad reviews to percieved competitors out of pure spite. Tom Bissells reviews for his first (real) book show how this pettyness isn't used just to praise a book, but to try to slander it's author. It's one thing to hate Eggers, but quite another to hate anyone involved with McSweeney's.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:20 PM on February 17, 2004

Whoa. Just now, as I was reading the Tom Bissell reviews in the link elwoodwiles posted, all 32 of them were deleted!

Heh. Guess someone at Amazon read this and wanted to clear the slate or something.
posted by Melinika at 6:10 PM on February 17, 2004

I think people do read the reviews and are influenced to a degree. And sometimes there's some hilarious back and forth, not only in the books sections but in the music sections. I also love it when people are obviously pimping their own product and then someone else jumps in to say, this product sucks, buy this one by my company.
And there are some reviewers who actually have pretty good taste and compile lists of "if you like this sort of thing, try these" that can be kind of helpful.
A good review can persuade by the telling quotation, the revealed fact, and so on. It doesn't really matter if the person is a well known critic. And who better to defend a book than the author or the author's friend. And who better to destroy it than the author's enemy?
posted by Slagman at 10:21 PM on February 17, 2004

I like the Eggers. The Eggers is good. That is all.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:55 PM on February 17, 2004

I don't blame Eggers or Bissell. Those ULA people are crazy stupid, plus their books suck, so they go around tearing down successful writers.
posted by Slagman at 7:07 AM on February 18, 2004

This sucks--now the Henry Raddick reviews are offline too. Put 'em back, Amazon! Don't you know a gold mine when you trip on one?
posted by clever sheep at 7:51 AM on February 18, 2004

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