Saturday, October 12, 2013

Amazon review culture and Google endorsements

Years ago I rage-quit Facebook largely primarily I objected to proposed programs that would portray people in ads for products they merely used. Just now Google, the company I work for (I didn't then), is creating a “shared endorsement” program, and it's uncomfortable to me for similar reasons. The actions that might get your face in an ad are more explicit, positive reviews and “+1”s, like Facebook's “Likes” today. That's clearly less objectionable...

Still, there's a step between providing information on a business and endorsing it that I believe is truly significant. A difference between offering information about your positive experience at Menards and driving a car that looks like this:

... or appearing on TV like this:

(Also, the architecture on that... paging Dr. Kunstler...)

I would never rule out the possibility that I'd endorse some business, if that business approached me and we came to an agreement! Probably that agreement would involve me being paid — I am, after all, American — but there would be an actual agreement that my name, words, and image be used in a specific way at a specific time.

Anyway, this stuff is all old hat, and (as REM might have had it) withdrawl in disgust from Facebook may as well have been apathy for all its effectiveness. A boycott with no compelling social underpinning might as well not exist; a solitary boycott that undermined what limited social influence I had was, if anything, counterproductive. Actions that draw on and strengthen social connections are the only ones that have a chance.

So that's where Amazon review culture comes in. My knowledge of Amazon review culture is limited, but, this is pretty much what I'm talking about. Amazon celebrates its funny reviews a little, but no company would ever want a random sampling of positive Amazon reviews shown with its paid advertisements. Could funny, subversive reviews be a response to shared endorsements? Social networks provide exactly the sort of feedback mechanisms to allow these sorts of things to take off, and the message would be reinforced and the community strengthened by engagement with the technology rather than withdrawl. To the snark machines! For great justice!