Mar 01 2007
There’s a great article on Wired magazine titled “Herding the Mob,” about a phenomenon that is rearing it ugly head and becoming more prevalent on Web sites that rely on positive feedback and customer rating systems. Any online content expert, retailer or Web site company will tell you that this could really hurt a site’s reputation.
In the article, contributing editor Annalee Newitz details how sites like eBay, Digg and those with special ratings systems that identify power users, trusted retailers or “must read” articles are getting scammed by individuals and companies looking to herd or bilk the masses. Not only that, it can also be great business!
Newitz writes, “In some cases, crowdhackers are looking to boost sales or increase traffic to their Web sites. In other instances, they’re simply ripping off unsuspecting consumers. Either way, the more we base decisions on the wisdom of crowds, the greater the incentive to cheat.”
But there are defenses, which those interviewed for the article would not disclose for obvious reasons. Newitz writes that what’s happening now is a sort of arms race between the crowd-hackers and the crowd defenders, made of developers and users who discover and scrub scams out of sites’ systems.
In the end, University of Michigan information studies professor Paul Resnick—who was interviewed for the article and who conducted a study years ago to find out if ratings systems can be manipulated—believes that a good reputation system is going to prevail because it makes people more trustworthy. And word gets around if they’re not, he said.
But while the theory may not be foolproof, there’s always the hope. Meanwhile, Internet sites that rely partially or heavily on users to rate a core product or feature, need to be ever-vigilant for crowd-hackers who may already be circling like vultures. Popular content and rating sites such as Digg, eBay, Reddit, Youtube, Yahoo Shopping and del.icio.us, which get hundreds of thousands to millions of page visitors each month, are most likely to be targeted.
And for smaller, up-and-coming sites, failure to maintain a wary eye could bring disaster.
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