Saturday, August 27, 2005

Negative feedback worth less?

I was visiting my blogging friends today and I noticed that on his blog,
Seth Godin mentions a negative feedback phenomenon and cites examples ...

"Wayne at Sellathon pointed me to an interesting phenomenon he's noticing. People online are starting to discount negative feedback. He points us to eBay Member Profile for and also to book reviews on Amazon where positive reviews are marked "helpful" nearly twice as often as negative ones (at least in his research). In both cases, you've got people saying "stay away!" and still, others buy.

I think the reason is classic cognitive dissonance. For unrelated reasons, you've already decided to buy. Now, the negative feedback needs to be ignored in order to validate your earlier hunch that you wanted to buy."

I just wanted to check out this research for myself, so I went out to Amazon and looked at the reviews for a book I'm currently reading: "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. This book currently (today) has 65 reviews, most of them "positive" (at least 4 stars). The reviews for this book actually discount the theory presented on Seth's blog (check it out for yourself and you'll see what I mean).

However, in looking over the reviews, I did come across one which really grabbed my attention and I'd like to share a bit of it here. It's by Ananda Chakravarty and, just from her review, I see that she's someone I want to get to know. Here's the start of her review:

A review of a book is meant to be an opinion. Something that others can reference to find a comparison point and understand better whether they are appropriately interested in a text or manuscript - and subsequently how much value they may place on it within the context of their own lives.

I will provide these items to note: I read first through the negative critiques of Keith's book, I continued to scan quickly through the positive ones - to which I give limited weight. An important first step to understand whether the book is really valuable or not. I then proceeded to evaluate the book from an image/impression point of view. Lastly, I read and evaluated whether the book might have value in my life as a professional. Not in the life of others. Not in the life of similar people. In my life. Is it valuable to me. This is what I came up with:

I'm going to stop there. It might take you a while to find her review (I think it's on the 3rd page of the 65 reviews), and it's quite lengthy, but I think it's worth it. Her insightful piece of prose gave me an entirely new perspective on other peoples' ideas about things, and caused me to wonder why I can't trust my own opinion more often.

I think the title of this post (which I copied from Seth's) is probably mostly true - and I think I used to agree. But after reading Ananda's review, I'm going to trust myself more. Thanks, Ananda - and Seth.


At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Bob said...

The review you mention is really a metareview. I thought her negative critique of the negative critiques could have leaned more toward the "principle of charity". Critics should be sensitive not judgmental. That is, if people didn't like the book, let's listen to what they've got to say. Let's permit these voices to be a part of the conversation. After all, it was the reviewer who said a review is just an opinion. And neither is a review of other reviews a book review. It's tangential.

It is not out of order, necessarily, to be suspicious about Keith's "star-gazing", and "self-aggrandizements". These readers are addressing "ethos", the key notion of good character and integrity first introduced by Aristotle's rhetoric a couple of millenia ago. Some readers will be more vulnerable to a self-assertive style than others.

Me, I found Keith's book quite instructive and entertaining, as long as I was quickly glossing over his swagger-passages. I got no bone to pick on that count. I don't consider the Keith Parade substantive, but rather merely incidental. His sense of social justice and reciprocity outweigh his polishing up of himself, at least in my reading.

The metareviewer does not leave much room for the fact these are not professional book reviewers, but just regular consumers with exuberance enough to express their opinions.

That said, the metareviewer's opinions were also helpful, if tangential, adding some self-reflexive spice to the body of reviews. She provoked thought, always a good thing. Her criteria for choosing a book, though, seems rather wooden and overly constrained. Most people buy books on impulse, impelled by a emotional response to a sentence, a passage, a backflap testimonial, a recommendation from a friend. And. That's. Okay. In the end, book buying is always a crap shoot, heart or mind, notwithstanding. It's like Forest Gump and his box of chocolates, "You never know what you're gonna get..."

...until you actually bite into one.


At 10:51 PM, Blogger Jodee said...


Thank you for the thoughtful comment. You've given me a lot more food for thought - chocolates, preferably!

Thanks for visiting and for your insights!


Post a Comment

<< Home