Reviews have become a big part of the peer to peer services world over the past ten years. Airbnb hosts obsess over them; bad reviews = fewer bookings. For Uber drivers, ratings can impact their livelihood; drivers with average ratings below 4.6 risk being deactivated. Even Uber passengers all have a star rating which can impact your ability to get a ride.
Reviews are useful but not always trustworthy
Peer reviews are a great way to get a feel for a product or service. And in peer to peer services, where there isn’t a company in the middle of your transactions, reviews can be very helpful. They provide important additional information about products or services that are not standardized.
But we can’t trust all reviews. Some people are vindictive. Others have ridiculous standards and give bad reviews without good reason. Some people feel bad for mentioning negative things, and give overly positive reviews. And some people scam the system, paying people to write fake reviews.
What happens when it’s really personal?
In sharing economy transactions, where no money changes hands, peer reviews become especially tricky. In these situations it’s pretty close to a direct agreement between two people. And these interactions are often highly personal. We got to know and trust each other. I stayed in your home, and welcomed you into mine. I thought we were friends. And then you left me a mediocre review. That can be devastating. What did I do wrong?
I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who are genuinely confused about why they were given only 3 out of 5 stars for cleanliness. Or 4 out of 5 for communication. Sometimes they reach out to their reviewer to ask for more information. But I think often this is just a question of different expectations. Some people see 5 stars as over the top amazing, and 3 stars as really good. Regardless, these conversations can be awkward. Perhaps the reviewer just has a higher standard of cleanliness and found the home a bit dingy. While the host cleaned for days just to achieve that level of dinginess.
Is there recourse for unfair reviews?
Reviews present a problem for peer to peer platforms when there is controversy. You left me a bad review but I don’t think it’s deserved. So I appeal to the platform and they have to mediate. Some platforms let the reviewed party respond publicly. Others only publish reviews with approval from the reviewed party. While still others try to mediate when there’s a disagreement.
It’s good to have some sort of recourse to dispute unfair or untrue reviews. But it’s also potentially a lot of resources for whoever runs the platform.
What’s the ideal review system?
I think there are a few key features to a reliable system of reviews:
- Reviews should be validated. They must be coming from someone who really experienced the service they are reviewing.
- Reviews should focus on text, not star ratings. Having people describe their experience is more useful and comparable than assuming every has the same standards for star ratings.
- Reviews should not be visible to people until they also submit a review of the other party. That’s the only way to ensure there will be no retribution.
- There must be a way to appeal or at least comment on disagreements. But this appeal shouldn’t automatically lead to removal of a bad review.
That’s my list, but I’m sure it’s not perfect or comprehensive.