Overloaded by Comments: A fresh take on user reviews

For anyone who has attempted to draw any insight from user reviews on a Web site, be it hotel reviews on a travel site or product reviews on Amazon, it will come as no surprise that the system is fundamentally flawed.  The current systems rely on either full text comments, which have to be waded through to find relevant information, or ratings – typically on some variation of a five star scale – that address only a few issues, with no room for subtlety.

Rating systems are extremely useful, they steer us towards what we want by communicating to us the experience of others, helping us to make better informed decisions.  However, if they are not quick to use, visually communicative, and most importantly, genuinely helpful by providing us with useful information, then they only contribute to information overload and slow us down while we search though pages of comments looking for relevant information.

We recently had a look at a prototype of a new tool by the name of Quick Comments, from Involve Technologies.  Quick Comments basically generates a tag cloud of terms that describe aspects of a product.  The terms text size becomes larger with positive ranking, lower with negative.  For example, a budget hotel may have the term “cost” in large text at the top of the cloud, but the term “cleanliness” in very small text at the bottom of the cloud.  Numerous other terms can be used, allowing for subtleties and creating a tag cloud that communicates strengths and weakness in a quick, intuitive, and visual way.

The shortcomings of traditional comments and rating systems – the pages and pages of comments and the rigidity of formal ratings – are eliminated in this model.  The size of the text clearly indicates if a term is positive or negative, and by allowing for a large number of terms, a more comprehensive picture of the product or service is communicated.

The utility of this kind of tool does not stop with the review of goods and services.  For the enterprise, potential uses abound – market research, internal expertise and content ranking, and employee feedback on initiatives – just to name a few.

Critically, tools such as Quick Comments are taking a fresh look at how information is conveyed and attempt to do so in a new and more relevant way.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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