Saturday, October 14, 2006

On Amazon Reviews

What is the literary culture of Amazon.com? Yes, it sounds like a swarmy, precious, taking-oneself-too-seriously-in-cultural-studies kind of question. But hang that, and think about it. God only knows how many reviews of books, music, video, etc., are posted there. Recently they added a feature where one can comment on reviews also.

Amazon does sport some serious and thoughtful reviews of books and movies (and I have tried to contribute my own), some good enough to be published in hard copy. (I was once briefly "a top 1000 reviewer." This is tabulated by positive votes for one's reviews calculated a starkly binary scale: "Was this review helpful to you? Yes or No?"--not too much nuance there.)

Other comments are little more than emotive utterances displaying an abysmally attenuated vocabulary, faintly conscious attempts at spelling, and an utter disregard for grammar or even capitalization. "i really think its totaly kool and awsome it kiks butt" You get the (non)idea. Why would anyone want to display their ignorance and lack of education in this kind of forum? I sometimes punish such offenders (in hopes of their linguistic reform) with my comments, but will they ever read them?

What do you think? Is this medium worth contributing to? Have you learned anything worth knowing or made significant human contact through Amazon? Have you read any articles about Amazon.com from a literary of philosophical perspective? Or do I just have too much time on my hands?

11 comments:

Jacob Hantla said...

I am a top 1000 reviewer on Amazon. I have not seen much benefit come to myself through the process of writing the reviews, but almost all of my major purchases from books to electronic gizmos have been affected and directed by Amazon.com reviews even if I didn't buy the product on Amazon.

Not all reviews are helpful, especially the ones written by an individual who has not read the book or used the product, but those are pretty easy to identify.

As for culture, there are multiple cultures on Amazon. Look at the review on popular music and you'll see a completely different culture than for nonfiction books.

I hope you keep reading and writing reviews. I am willing to put up with a few illiterate, obnoxious reviewers for the freedom to hear from such an uncensored diversity of people around the world

Jeff Burton said...

I never look at amazon reviews for books anymore. If the book has any potential to upset one's ideological commitments, there is sure to be a tedious, polarized debate raging in the review section. Who has time to sort through 200 reviews, many of which are screeds written by people who haven't even read the book?

On the other hand, whenever I buy a plasma tv, I carefully scan every Amazon review. They are refreshingly free of political rancor.

Mark said...

My view of Amazon reviews is mainly pragmatic.

It can not hurt to have the reviews there and is more likely than not able to help the decision whether to purchase or not in some way or another.

There is the "noise" and the reviews which obviously bear little concern for the object itself, but those are fairly easy to weed through. And there is also the "noise" on the "Was this helpful?" option. Ie. Any positive review on a book criticizing the RCC will likely procure 50% or more "No" votes no matter how objective or well-written review actually is.

I contributed to the reviews because I utilize the reviews, and I like to be "in" things I utilize.

I'd say its definately worth contributing to the reviews. One blessing is that I've been approached by numerous people who've read my reviews, and sometimes people who I had previously assumed weren't into the subject matter in question.

One thing that does annoy me, though, is the fact that the Amazon.com and Amazon.ca review databases are separate. Well, when they initiated reviews on Amazon.ca, they did copy over the Amazon.com database from that point, but all Amazon.com reviews from then forward were never migrated over to Amazon.ca.

Douglas Groothuis said...

"On the other hand, whenever I buy a plasma tv, I carefully scan every Amazon review. They are refreshingly free of political rancor."

I hope this is a counterfactual.

Timo_the_Osprey said...

Dr. Groothuis,

Something I have begun recently is monitoring and editing Wikipedia entries within my field of expertise.

Wikipedia has become a powerful force (for better or worse) and its influence will only grow better or worse in accordance with the type of people contributing.

Becoming a Wikipedian would allow you to continue in the same spirit of public service (kingdom service) in which you do the amazon reviews, but would, in my opinion, get you a bettter return for your efforts.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Here's the rub: I can sign my Amazon Reviews. Wikis are nameless, are they not?

Jeff Burton said...

"On the other hand, whenever I buy a plasma tv..."

A little subtle teasing, professor. I apologize.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Teasing! God be praised.

Austin Storm said...

I think the biggest reason not to invest in reviewing on Amazon.com is that you no longer own your reviews. Amazon.com owns all rights to them.

Douglas Groothuis said...

How could they control these "rights"?

PatrickHare said...

"Other comments are little more than emotive utterances displaying an abysmally attenuated vocabulary, faintly conscious attempts at spelling, and an utter disregard for grammar or even capitalization."

Here's a comment on a book review on Amazon, which, while only containing one grammatical error - "these others traditions" - (at least according to prevailing 21st century American norms), is lacking in respect, understanding, and Christian charity.
Frankly, given the choice, I prefer bad grammar.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/discussionboard/discussion.html/ref=cm_rdp_st_rd/104-4224461-4343150?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0310264731&store=yourstore&cdThread=Tx1LS5YPOS1BG82&reviewID=R118JPGV56YGVC&iid=0310264731&displayType=ReviewDetail


Patrick Hare