I had lunch with Lisa Ede today and we talked about weblogs, Amazon reviewers, podcasts, and more. I always leave our conversations with a lot to think about. She's studying citizen reviewers
—those folks like you and me who offer opinions on products at Amazon or on our weblogs. She recently gave a talk called Online Citizen Book Reviews and the Circulation of Cultural Power
and posted the text to her weblog—...my ISHR talk
In her talk she asks a very interesting question:
What motivates someone to submit the 1,282nd review of The Poisonwood Bible to Amazon.com?
And I stumbled across a similar question on the Freakonomics authors' blog in a post called Why do people post reviews on amazon?
Take the latest Harry Potter book, for instance. It has been out about a week. So far there are 1,385 reviews at amazon, and another 385 at bn.com. What's in it for reviewer 1,385?
I thought it would be fun to try to answer this question, because I think what motivates reviewer 1,385 or reviewer 1,282 is very similar to what motivates an anonymous blogger to post about what they had for lunch today. (I had a ham and cheese sandwich.) I came up with three potential motivations:
I think one motivation for reviews in general is building reputation
, though it's not a great answer for reviewer 1,385. The chances a review in the middle of the stack will be read are low, so it's probably not a good strategy to post reviews to popular books if you want to bolster your Amazon reviewing identity. Also, it's no easy task to break into the Amazon Top Reviewer
list, though it may be easier to gain fame/reputation with a body of offbeat reviews
Another possible motivation—and you'll have to stick with me on this one—is that some might want to more closely tie their identity with a particular product
. Because our identities are often tied up with the products we buy, music we listen to, books we read, it makes sense that some may just want to add a piece of themselves to an official page for a particular product. It's a bit like leaving an offering at a shrine for a particular deity. This is basically the concept of commodity fetishism
, and I think Amazon benefits from this effect.
Another potential motivation occurred to me after reading about Jeremy Heigh's distinction between conversation and philosophical voyeurism on a kottke.org post in The present future of conversations
. I think an act of philosophical exhibitionism
can help people organize their thoughts or simply help them feel they're contributing to the common good. If I expose my thinking (as I'm doing now), and it sparks someone else's interest, or leads them down another path, I've contributed something to the world. And if I can explain to someone else why
the Harry Potter book is good or bad, I make those thoughts more concrete in my own mind.
Lisa likened the 1,282nd review to the scene in Network
where everyone throws open their windows and screams, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore
. And I do think there could be a social motivation that's trying to ease a feeling of isolation.
So now that I've tried to gain whuffie
, paid homage to Amazon by associating my identity more closely with it, and now that I've helped myself clarify my thoughts by exposing my internal monologue—and hopefully helped others in the process—I can end this post.