Simon Read: When it comes to online reviews, you need to know who's reviewing

 

Unless you're a fan of crime fiction, you may not have heard of RJ Ellory. He's a decent enough author and I've certainly whiled away a few hours reading his stuff.

But judging by some of the reviews posted online at Amazon, some people think his books are much more than simple page-turners. One reviewer said: "One of the most moving books I've ever read."

Another reviewer was even more effusive. After describing one of Ellory's thrillers as "a modern masterpiece" the fan continued: "Whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul."

Powerful stuff and, no doubt, postitive enough to persuade some people to buy the books. But there's one problem with the reviews. They – and many others – were actually written by the author of the books under a series of pseudonyms.

Now you may think that posting positive reviews is a pretty harmless bit of self-puffery. You may even excuse Ellory then posting heavily negative reviews about many of his rivals' books as "all's fair in business".

But it's not fair and it's not harmless. Apart from the fact that it could damage the career of a rival, such stories of false reviews undermines the whole system of trust in what's published online. If one review is a pack of lies, then all may be.

The same is true over at TripAdvisor where there have been several reported instances of hotel owners writing bogus bad reviews of rival establishments to try and put them out of business.

The process is shabby and underhand and leaves consumers with nowhere to turn for honest information about books or hotels or anything else they are considering spending their money on.

Traditionally, of course, such word-of-mouth reviews would have come from friends or family. But the internet has made it too easy to get reams of information and opinions about, well, anything. So it seems logical to go online to get information when we want it rather than wait until we see people we know who may offer a more useful opinion.

The fact is that even honest online reviews can be misleading. Unless you share the standards – or interests – of the reviewer, their five-star hotel could be your one-star nightmare.

In the travel trade they call that the "squashy fruit" principle. That comes into play when hard-to-please guests mark accommodation down simply because an orange – or other fruit – may be less than fresh.

Most of us won't be so fussy but may be put off a perfectly decent place by a needlessly harsh review from a stranger.

So having established that we can't trust online reviews, I'd like to welcome a new website this week that offer the chance to read reviews of financial advisers.

VouchedFor.co.uk has been set up by ex-banker Adam Price. His philosophy is simple: "There's huge demand for good financial advice, but people don't know who to put their trust in," he says. He hopes his site will help people find trustworthy advisers.

He's not in it for altruism, of course. He'll make money by charging advisers for their listings. But, crucially, reviewers – customers of advisers – will be able to use the site for free.

They'll be able to search for an independent financial adviser by specialism or town or postcode. In that sense, the site offers no more than the existing unbiased.co.uk which has thousands of advisers on its site.

By comparison, VouchedFor has –to date – just 250 advisers. But Adam hopes that will grow quickly as people become aware of the site and its reviews and scoring, based on quality, service and value for money.

But that raises the question of trust. With underhand tactics and unfair reviews all over the internet, how can VouchedFor ensure that its listings are trustworthy?

"We publish all reviews – good or bad (unless they contain spam or abuse), and give advisers a right of reply," says Adam. "Moreover, unlike most review sites, we verify the identity of every reviewer."

He also asks IFAs to confirm that reviewers are clients and the site looks for odd patterns in our data to root out dodgy reviewers. "Ultimately, we would seek investigative support from the IFA's compliance officer if we suspected an IFA had misled us."

Getting tough with reviewers before they cause damage is sensible. But we'll have to see whether that helps the site to be a success. If it is, it could prove a powerful ally for consumers looking for decent advice.

s.read@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

    £70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

    Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

    £23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

    Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

    £13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific