Online Reviews Promised a Golden Age
When the internet was born, communities were free to share reviews on just about anything. A golden age dawned where it seemed that Angie’s List would be replaced with a free, instantaneous online reputation for service providers. People would be able to find the best nannies, hair care, healthcare, food, goods, and more. Information was democratized! However, the dream fell short. Today’s technology confirms that many review systems are filled with paid for and fake reviews created by bad actors, robots, and competing interests. Sites like Review Meta have popped up, using proprietary algorithms and weighted statistical analyses to start alerting customers when reviews appear “unnatural” on various platforms like Amazon and Yelp. Review Meta is helpful but is outside software like this efficient and enough?
Reviews on Popular Sites like Amazon and Yelp can be Fake
Users of sites like Amazon have remained blind to the notion that there are thousands of paid reviewers who are “verified purchasers” that get discounts to post a positive review. Amazon merchants have even been traced to Facebook campaigns to send totally free products for a positive review on Amazon. “Influencers” that use Instagram build whole reputations out of fake reviews on products they receive for free. You don’t even have to be human to be an influencer now.
Solutions like Review Meta and TheAmplify act like the police of these platforms to weed out fake users. They call for more community policing by media agencies and brands to weed out the fake accounts and reviews. Amazon has sued merchants and providers that post fake reviews in an effort to eliminate bad actors. Yelp followed suit. The lawsuits amount to whack-a-mole exercises as more and more fake review companies pop up, often overseas, and avoid detection through internet cloaking methods like VPNs. But what if the centralized structures, the black box that most website review systems like Yelp and Amazon use, are the problem?
Could this problem be fixed by engineering platforms correctly from the beginning? Many blockchain experts think so. Diving into the software helps you understand why.
Engineering Could Solve the Problem
Blockchain is essentially a common history that is copied and kept on many different machines rather than one server. Each piece of information passed on the system can be verified and agreed to by the whole system, reaching consensus. Sometimes, the information is “money” and sometimes it is a piece of information like a land title or deed. If a piece of information is fake and flows from an incorrect source or is corrupted, most of the machines on the system will reject it unless it meets certain criteria. This helps to eliminate spam and fake reviews. Much of this process can be implemented through “hashing”. Data (like a file, a database entry, a review) can be hashed to produce a unique identifier thus creating a digital “fingerprint” that can be associated to the blockchain through a transaction and thus become registered. Through timestamping and other validation methods, this data can be proven to have existed at a certain period of time and come from a reliable source or user on the system. And so the data becomes a verified review.
That’s one piece of the puzzle.
How Should Marketplaces Reward Service Providers?
Once you have a good, reliable review, how can you reward service providers for their efforts? Blockchain technology also unlocks this side of the business problem. When a verified review is posted, money can be associated with the the information and directly sent to the provider, like a tip. This type of arrangement can build a resilient review system that verifies identity, information, and also rewards service providers in real time. A win-win.
The other advantage of its engineering is the concept of immutability, or how blockchains cannot be unwound and put in rewind, making them truly reliable history resources. Imagine a internet review system that stands as a permanent history that is clear, concise, and resilient. Trust is in the engineering of software rather than in community policing or outside vendors who could manipulate perception through fake reviews or biased news on the platform.
This type of problem solving is the promise of good engineering from a systems perspective and that’s the promise we have today with blockchain. Before the programming breakthroughs in software, this type of solution was not possible on the worldwide web. Protocols like Kudos make this type of review system finally possible.