Passing by almost unnoticed in the barrage of recent news are these pieces from the last couple of weeks on changes Amazon is making to its review system. Effectively, Amazon is using machine learning to change the way it calculates the aggregate star ratings on its reviews. (Found via Reddit.)

Amazon is adding more weight to reviews from verified purchasers (that is, people who actually bought the product from Amazon), people who were voted helpful, and people who reviewed it recently. This is getting a lot of play on Facebook lately, including complaints from authors concerned about how this is going to affect reviews of their already-published works.

If all this is true, it’s kind of sad that Amazon is effectively discounting the experiences of people who received gifts or advance review copies of novels. It used to be that it didn’t matter where you bought the product, Amazon was happy to hear what you thought about it anyway. But on the other hand, people have been asking Amazon to fix this for years. Even leaving aside troll reviewers and other abuse, people can go in and assign one-star protest reviews to products without buying them simply because they might not like their DRM, their release date, price, or other factors unrelated to the content of the work itself.

That being said, I’m not sure whether this is really going to change things all that much for most items. The new rules have been in effect for two weeks now, but one-star-protest-reviewed game Spore still has an aggregate review score of 1.5 stars, which is awfully low for such a classic game with over 3,000 reviews—most of whom wouldn’t have bought the game when they wanted to protest its DRM. Perhaps the review hasn’t been recalculated yet?


  1. Apps that are constantly updated need a way to have more recent reviews be relevant. FlipBoard for iOS is plagued with bad review mostly from the first week of release (couldn’t keep up with the data demand). Yes, you can click “reviews for this version” but if it just came out, there are no reviews or only a few, so when you click older you see al the 1-star votes. Apps reviews from the last 6 months are way more relevant than reviews from 3 years ago.

    Reviews are always plagued with “Amazon shipped me the wrong product (1 star)” and the “app doesn’t do _______ so only 1 star” (which the description clearly states that it does NOT do that). So it needs something. I want a button to click that says “this is not a review” or “they are complaining about something not related to the product” (so we can down vote them and get the reviews deleted).

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail