Reader comments are important to us—and to other readers. But recently, corporate marketers have been anonymously abusing our comments system, attempting to mislead readers with overly positive comments about their own products, or overly negative comments about their competitors. This practice is known as “astroturfing,” or the creation of artificial grass roots support, and has been banned on iLounge since January, 2006. Today, we have taken another step to end astroturfing on iLounge, and are explaining it here.
For years, our reviews and First Looks have been widely considered to be important and influential resources of information about iPod- and iTunes-related products. We have taken pride in including reader comments immediately alongside these articles, to enable additional points to be made, and in some cases, offer details about updated, post-review versions of the products. Because we know that company representatives sometimes want to add comments, we have very conspicuously offered them this opportunity, provided that they are willing to honestly and publicly identify themselves as representatives.
Unfortunately, certain companies have been using iLounge’s comments system—as well as similar comment systems on major retail sites—to post phony product reviews. Why? Company representatives have told us that they are under pressure from retailers to generate positive reviews in order to keep their products stocked and selling, and that in some cases, their products will be dropped by the retailers if their ratings are too low. Rather than making better products, the companies feel pressured to generate positive comments on their own, and the retailers don’t stop them.
The consequence has been an influx of comments such as these:
(1) The Ultra-Positive: “Absolutely amazing! I cannot believe how great this is!!! There is no greater earphone. Perfect! Satisfaction guaranteed! Amazing bass and perfect treble at any volume! Trust me, you must buy this, it is incredible quality!”
(2) The Stealth Positive: “When I first looked at this speaker, I thought: why do they not include a carrying case? To me, the most important thing about a speaker is its carrying case. But then I realized that the price was so amazing, and the sound was so amazing, that I could buy my own case or use the one I already had. I bought this and have not been disappointed. A+ highly recommended!”
(3) The Ultra-Negative: “I have purchased 15 different iPod cases in the last month, including this, and returned them all except one. The ones I returned all have awful quality and none are made with the refined nitrogen infusion process that everyone knows is so important. If you are thinking of buying this case, forget it and get the other one instead!”
Our moderation staff has worked hard to shut down the phony comments as they’ve come in, and where appropriate, publicly or privately warned the companies to knock them off. But in recent months, we’ve had more and more comments to close, and the astroturfers have become sneakier. Confronted with the choice of whether to allow our review pages to be filled every day with this junk, or make a radical change to our comments system, we very reluctantly chose the second option—after many months of internal debate.
iLounge is committed to maintaining the integrity of our coverage: unlike retail sites that encourage super-positive reviews to generate sales, we are not interested in selling you anything. The mission of our product review pages is to provide you with factual information—and our honest, objective big picture perspective—so you can make your own informed buying decisions. Biased comments from anonymous marketers, their relatives and friends only detract from this mission.
Starting today, we have replaced the comment boxes on our review and First Looks pages with a new graphic:
These buttons enable comments on specific products to be made in our Discussion Forums, where our superb team of moderators has been working for years to screen out spammers, astroturfers, and others who are interested in using cheap-shot marketing tactics to sell their products to our readers. The Forums give readers the ability to carry on the same product-focused discussions they had on the main iLounge site, with added security, as well as the ability to easily report problem posts (use the ! mark at the top of any message).
Legitimate reader comments are extremely important to us, and we continue to appreciate the contributions you have made. We look forward to reading and responding to your comments in the Forums: a link to discuss this change is here. Updated: On October 2, 2007, we posted a Comments + Questions Policy page to help company representatives learn how to openly and honestly provide information to our community.
Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief, iLounge.com
Dennis Lloyd, Publisher, iLounge.com