The Reviewer's Duty and the Tragedy of the commons

In Economics, there is a concept called Tragedy of the Commons which simplistically means that when left to their own mechanism, individuals acting out of their own self interest sometimes behave in a manner which is against the common interest of all.

Reviewer's Duty

Some popular examples of this are air and water pollution. Companies that manufacture chemicals or other substances don’t bother much about pollution as it isn’t in their immediate best interest, at least in the short term. But they fail to realize that in the long term, the pollution is going to affect them too along with the sustainability of every individual on earth.

But for things like air and water pollution, there are regulatory bodies that keep a check on the polluters. Now, you might be wondering how on earth does the tragedy of commons have anything to do with internet reviews?

Welcome to the 21st century where the entire world is moving towards a global village ideal, and its no secret that actions of one individual affect others too in the digital realm. For example, its popularly known in SEO circles that Links are the very currency and life-blood on the Internet. If you link to someone on your website, you provide them lots of traffic by recommending to your own site visitors. Not only that, the number of incoming links to a url very much affects the search engine results for that url too. For e-commerce and other sites whose income depends directly on the incoming web traffic to an extent, a link refferal is very much akin to a boon, isn’t it?

A similar currency which is getting a lot of importance lately is online reviews. Like links, reviews affect the e-commerce sites and businesses too, but they help even more towards the common good of all consumers of those businesses - both current and potential.

In the good old 18th century, “word of mouth” publicity was the way reviews and reputations used to work. Life was simple and the most people had to know for making both ends meet was about the grocery shop next door, or the vegetable market near the village centre. Reviews and reputations were something implicit in such a localized market, nobody needed to ask for them.

The “word of mouth” technique works even to this day upto a certain extent, but life is more complicated today with the oncoming of digital. All varieties of simple and complicated products are available on shopping portals and the only thing that can guide you with decision-making in this chaos is reviews. With e-commerce growth projected at around 2.29 trillion USD by the end of this year alone, the importance of honest and sincere reviews become even more important, both for the digital and offline consumer.

But there is a major problem with how the review system presently works. As I mentioned in the beginning, the economic concept of common good applies here. Firstly, almost everyone goes an extra mile to write a negative review about a product, but they don’t bother to write a positive review as they are “too happy with the product to bother”. This results in a very skewed review pattern of a product. Its a well-known thing that some defects happen in almost all products, but the ratio is important: whether ten defects were found in ten products sold, or a thousand products sold makes a world of difference. But since most of our positive reviewers just didn’t mention that thing, we may never know the difference and hold both the products (with a handful of bad reviews) in equally bad light.

As a “happy user” of a good product, bothering to switch on your laptop and write a review might be a bit painful, but each time you receive a good product, just remember that it might have as well turned out to be bad. And it might have happened just because someone else didn’t bother to write a wonderful review about an even better option that you missed on the portal! So, remember that common good and do your utmost duty as a good netizen: Get up and write an honest review of almost everything that you have ever purchased.

And reviews aren’t just important for e-commerce sites, its important for offline world as well. When you visit a restaurant, hospital or even a grocery shop, its very easy to find that on Google and write a review about it. If you visit a hospital or clinic and observed a serious neglience while receiving a treatment, your review can potentially help save someone’s life. Don’t ever think that what difference is your lone review going to make, if each one thinks like that, then we as consumers will keep getting taken for rides.

Another reason for writing honest reviews for real consumers, is review manipulation and paid-reviews by many e-commerce sellers. The concept of paid reviews is no secret, many e-commerce sellers pay people to write fake reviews on amazon, google, etc. Taking the short-term profit route and ignoring the long-term consequences on common good, those poor folks write those incorrect reviews. The only way to thwart these manipulators is that each and every one of the actual genuine consumer writes a review too. The handful of manipulated reviews will get lost in the ocean of genuine reviews, and paid reviews will stop happening for good.

Don’t ever think that there are already thousands of good reviews on a product, why should I write another one. As I said, all these thousands are very much required to counteract the paid reviews. Think of reviews as votes that you cast in an election. How important it is to elect a good candidate for the common good of the people is something that you already know. So, the next time you feel lethargic or lazy to write a good review, remember the common good which will cause your good karma to return back to you with 200% interest!

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