EPINIONS sure is a WEIRD joint

Sep 11, 2001

The Bottom Line We are all basically flawed

Yep, make no mistake about it, Epinions is weird. So of course are cities. Notice the similarity?

There are enough Epinions authors to make up a small city, if we were all to live in the same place. So what if we did? We would have a community full of mostly caring, ordinary everyday people. These things called people are otherwise known as humans.

Now humans have an in built flaw - all humans have it, and difficult to believe I know, but even I do! Yep, you guessed it, we are fallible. We all make mistakes, lots of them. Some can be called big, others small. Some are of major consequence particularly if we happen to be the leader of a country or perhaps a Doctor. We don't like it when those sorts of people make mistakes because they often directly effect us.

But what about the mistakes of Mr. and Ms. Average? Not quite so bad are they, because they usually have minimal impact on other people.

All very basic stuff isn't it! We haven't heard one thing we don't already know - or have we? Probably we do know but we are inclined to forget from time to time. But why would we forget?

I know I am mostly likely to forget when an emotion is stirred - I am capable of the most ridiculous, stupid, pointless acts possible when that happens. I know it but in my fifty years I have still not learnt enough to avoid over - reacting at times.

So, what has this got to do with Epinions. Simply everything. Life involves many assumptions, like it or not. Surely we "click" on an epinion in the expectation that the writer has at least put some effort in to it. On a rare occasion we may come across a blatant stunt, the aaaaaaaaaa "writer", but I refuse to waste time on those characters. Here I am talking about ninety nine percent of the reviews we read. And what of them?

Many are the "this is the best paintbrush" variety where the guidelines are quite clear and simple to follow. That doesn't mean these reviews are all perfect sleep inducers by any means - in fact many are quite entertaining.

But lets get to the types of review that are most prone to be emotion provoking. Not hard to work out is it! Obviously religion and politics are great emotion stirrers - but there are many more. Such as home schooling and even direct marketing.

Direct marketing? Yep, I have been in strife with some over something that simple when long ago I dared to say the Internet would not take over retailing. Something like home schooling has a very emotive side. Some consider their child better educated with individual home instruction and others insist only a school environment can provide the all round education every child needs. There are many other considerations of course but which one is right? Whose, if anyone's, side are you on? What would you write?

Now, I am not falling for giving my views here - thats already done. What I am about here is how do we rate such things, the things that we strongly believe or disbelieve?
And probably more importantly what sort of comment should we make.

Hopefully when I read a review, or even a comment on one of my own reviews, I can put my belief system aside. Well if you can do that you are better than me! The best I can do is look analytically at how well the piece is written and rate accordingly.

But, alas, sometimes I am still in trouble. The analytical approach to how well a piece is written unfortunately includes a structured "argument" followed by a logical conclusion. But my logical is not everyone's logical - neither is yours! From here on if you see yourself its more in your mind than mine, as I seek to identify no-one and offend no -one. But I know at least someone will take offence - they always do!

By way of example I am going to use the holiest of emotion stirrers, Religion. Even though I know there are those that don't agree, I believe that Religion is a fundamental part of many peoples being - and with that the case it must effect not just us but those close to us - In turn their belief will pass to others they know and so on - the end result being that Religion is a part, only a part, of our culture and the culture of the Nation we happen to live in. This applies whether we are religious or not - Catholic or Protestant, Christian or Buddhist, atheist or believer and so on. It doesn't matter what one individual thinks in terms of culture - it is what the sum total of the population think that creates the culture. Agreement alone is not the issue at all.

I can here the screaming now - just because that bunch of words is as innocuous as I can think to make them, they will still stir deep emotion within some people.

This example is just that - an example. So what do we do with it if we find it offensive?

Well we have options, both sensible and since we may have had our emotions stirred not so sensible - and remember I have been guilty of using an inappropriate option or three myself.

Lets assume our emotions are well and truly stirred. We can simply decide not to rate the item, we can give it a low rating, we can even play gutless anonymous if we want to so no one can even question our actions. We can add them to the Web of Disgust....er...sorry Distrust, which I have never used (here the sighs of relief!) because it is anonymous.

We can even leave a comment - and I believe comments are very important. We authors really only get two types of feedback, or if you are a believer in the former Advisor or now Editor/Popular lottery, perhaps three types but the latter is not from our peers.

Our feedback comes from our ratings and the comments we receive. If we are rated "very helpful" thats nice, but if that person also leaves a comment saying "I really enjoyed that" thats the best. That is surely the ultimate reward.

But that won't always be - so get used to it right now. A comment and/or rating is really an opinion on your opinion - nothing more, nothing less.

So if someone rates low and then says "I have rated this review low because it is difficult to read/ grammatically incorrect in places/poorly spelt" and so on then ideally we won't get on our high horse of indignation but have a good close look at it ourselves - chances are that person may just be right. Perhaps get a friend to look over it and give their views. Remember we can edit our own material at any time. And if we do, email the member who pointed out the obviously unintended errors and ask them if they would re-read and if appropriate re-rate the item. The vast majority will oblige happily.

Now what if the scenario doesn't go like that - and regrettably but inevitably it won't always because remember the rater is only human too!

What if the comment reads "This is beyond doubt the worst piece of garbage I have ever read. The grammar stinks, you haven't even used your, or Epinions, spell checker and besides its off topic so NH". How do you react? - while not thrilled at having errors pointed out in the first scenario, at least the person has politely said why they rated low. In the second scenario, no matter what is in the mind of the writer, surely you would be entitled to be offended. Even if what they say is true, there is no reason to be abusive or belittling. Abusive comments are far less likely to be believed and far more likely to result in a retaliatory response.

So what happens all too often? To my eternal shame I actually responded to such a comment not that long ago - and it wasn't even worthy of response! Worse, the hoary old chestnut that these types of comments usually contain is that "besides its off topic" - so what did I do worse? I defended the reviews location by stating Epinions had suggested I use that very spot for this type of review. Oh how clever of me! The commentor's emotions were running so high they wrote to epinions to see if I was telling the truth! Trouble was they asked the wrong question and naturally got the wrong answer.

See how easy it is for something to get out of hand - and over what - a little fifteen hundred word story worth maybe five or ten dollars. Make a good movie wouldn't it, except no one would believe it.

The moral of the story - we must not let our emotions get the better of us. No one ever wins - in fact everyone looses. What does it matter who started it? Like all disputes it can be debated until the "cows come home" - but what's that prove - nothing.

No valid excuse exists - there may be other issues involved "behind the scenes" but so what? One thing is for sure - most readers don't know, don't care or simply don't want to get involved because all they can see is a childish spat that demeans both participants and the review itself.

So, yes, ratings and comments are important. The wise old saying "unless you have something good to say shut up" is very appropriate on this site.

"Good to say" doesn't mean "you are a fantastic writer". "Good" means you have something beneficial to say to the author which may well involve some worthy piece of advice.

And if that "good to say” is remotely contentious for heavens sake send a private email - airing dirty washing in public never serves any good purpose.

One final word on "off topic" Epinions. If a member publishes an opinion on shoes under Cadillacs clearly this is "off Topic. And yes it does matter because those millions of Epinions site readers who rely on Epinions for at least part of the advice they seek have the right to only find relevant articles under the item they are inquiring about.

However common sense is permitted. Since the new site format was introduced last January there have naturally been some teething problems. Some categories are very well catered for while some others are not. To Epinions credit they readily agree to having made an error in only allowing one post per sub category item. This is of little consequence in many cases, but in others has been a major problem. Epinions are still working to correct the problem that, for example, is very obvious in travel. Hopefully a solution will soon be found, but in the meantime the last thing they want is for travel writing to cease.

This is why quite a few travel authors, including me, use the appropriate country General section for travel reviews when no better spot is available. Depending on exactly how Epinions eventually resolve this, and other issues, these reviews may move elsewhere or just stay where they are. Fortunately the Epinions search facility works quite well so the problem is much less than otherwise would be the case.

I have been in constant contact with the "Castle" over this for many months and knowing full well the big boss will be reading this I have no hesitation in quoting a few of their own words that really sum up the administration attitude. These words are that they don't want "inconvenience created by members who seem to have their own agenda that deviates from a proactive role at Epinions.

This is said in the context that they acknowledge the publishing problem but that it should not be used as a reason or excuse to stop writing.

So let us take their advice - after all it is their site. Let us be proactive, not reactive and only worry about matters of consequence, not simply nitpick. They have the belief we are mature enough to realise the difference between proactive and reactive - and for the vast majority I am sure their faith is well founded.

To sum up, we are all human and we are all going to make mistakes. We should work towards being able to differentiate between real abuse and common sense. We need to realise that as authors no matter what we write we are likely to offend someone somewhere. We need the courage of our convictions but at the same time not try to impose our beliefs on others. We need to be mindful of emotive issues - not to shy from them, but to extend the courtesy we ourselves desire. We need to do our very best to be helpful to others at all times and recognise there is no excuse whatsoever for abuse or belittling of another person.

Can we do all that all of the time? no! - so we reserve the right to make mistakes ourselves.

The best we can do is to do our best - and when we are wrong be big enough to admit it!

That is all we can expect of anyone.

NB Every single thing I have mentioned I know at least several have done - including in some cases myself. If you think you see yourself in any part of this then perhaps you do - but your identity is known only to yourself . If you think you see someone else in this, again perhaps you do - but it is in your mind, not necessarily mine.

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About the Author

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Member: Peter Smith
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