Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Zagat-i-zation of Things

I rely on the Zagat Survey for restaurant recommendations. The survey complied by Tim and Nina Zagat reflected the opinions and behaviors of New York City executives and upper middle class families dining out in the biggest food carnival anywhere.

To some extent this is a mirror image of me, so I can easily rely on the opinions expressed and have pretty good confidence that , food selection aside, expectations about ambiance, service, décor and overall experience are generally the same as mine. And while there are probably psycho-demographic variations from book to book, I’m still generally comfortable with the point of view expressed.

But as grassroots ratings begin to pop-up in almost every field, I’m not sure I know who is doing the scoring or what criteria are being used to assess performance. And as these ratings get circulated on the Web, they are apt to get blanket acceptance on their face by a public eager to search and find data on-demand, without careful consideration of the sources or bona fides of those creating this data.

On eBay or Amazon you can find ratings and reviews of all types. The problem is you don’t know who these reviewers are other than people who have the time or the ego to write reviews. In some cases the reviews are themselves rated for usefulness. But the same problem of meta data exists; we don’t know who the reviewer of the reviews is and other than their command of the language. Often after reading them you cannot establish either their biases or their expertise by inference.

Imagine how this spirals out of control when every brand and every product or service from doctors and dentists to retail stores to plumbers, roofers and electricians will have prices, performance and reviews posted online. How could any reasonable person sort through them? How could any brand either influence or respond to them? And short of trial and error how could anyone make use of them? This is a serious limitation to so-called customer-generated media.


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