Welcome to Bambi's Epinions House of Trustitutionby Steven Mrak
Aug 17, 2004
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line If you really, really, really wanna get ahead at Epinions.com, the tried-and-true method practiced for five years! is to become a trustitute. But who says it's a "victimless crime"?
Well, hello, sailor! We haven't seen you here before (and we wouldn't remember if we had, if you know what I mean!), so let's get you started with a copy of our menu and then you can meet some of the members... err, staff.
Around the World: Every trustitute in the house climbs on and rubs your opinion aalllllll over with their little rubber stamps. We even email members who aren't here right now, and they come by later. Just imagine - your delectable experience can last for days!! (Price: one click per visitor)
Clickin' to the Oldies: Don't you forget, now: your oldies need loving, too! Our trustitutes climb into Bambi's BackRubber TimeMachine(tm) to pay a verrrrry friendly visit to any one of your old opinions, bringing it to life once more with the sensuous touch of inked rubber. Now that's better than any ol' blue pill, isn't it! (Suggested price: one click per visitor. Warning: limit of three oldies per day!)
69 - Mutual Trust: Pick any trustitute from our member album and trust him or her; you'll get your trust right back the very same day. It's kinda like Viagra for your LoT! (Price: one trust. Tip: click as many old reviews as you feel necessary)
Golden Showers: Don't let some nasty ol' Advisor rain on your parade. Our trustitutes are your true friends; the kind who take the time to log out, hit every one of your opinions, and click through to a merchant site so Income Share rains down on you. (Price - one hour of clicking on the staff's reviews)
Rubber Stampede: The most basic service offered at Bambi's. Bring your latest by and we'll give you a little taste of the lift that trustitution can give you. (Price: We give 'em away free to first-timers!)
Update Time: Think your favorite opinion needs a little attention? Never fear - our trustitutes will be happy to visit it again to inspect the valuable new information in your "update." You don't even need to add anything new, just change a comma: we don't care, we're trustitutes! (Price - one click per visitor.)
Old-Fashioned Tongue-Lashing: Did some meanie rate your latest opinion H? Don't worry, your faithful trustitute friends will deliver a load of scorn in your comment section that'll have a hard-assed Advisor or a foolish newbie quaking in his boots for a week. (Price - minimum of three comments of your own, one to reflect indignation)
Daisy Chain: The whole houseful of trustitutes lines up single-file and starts clicking away in an endless orgy of hits. Your index finger will be achin' for a week, but it'll sure be worth it when IS time rolls around! (Price - participation in two subsequent DCs)
Meet a Few of Bambi's Staff...
Hi, I'm Sean! If you like your trustitutes big and powerful, I'm just the guy you're looking for. Take a peek at my big, hard red badge and tell me you're not just itching to start the r/r/c. Chickenhawks are always welcome!
Lovely Lorelei that's me. I'm ready for action in just about any category - updates, daisy chains, tongue-lashings, 69, the whole nine yards. You'll find me of the most versatile girls at Bambi's circle, 'cause I have eight different hats in my closet - the bigger cushion, the better pushin', I always say!
Orion's my name and rubberstampin's my game! I specialize in threesomes, and I just love rubbing my hot, hard little stamp all over those oldsters of yours. I may be young, but I'm a lot more experienced than I look!
Mama named me SherryJane, but just call me any old thing you want. I may not have any of those fancy hats in my closet, but boy! am I well-traveled! Click with me, and I'll make certain that you have no regrets!
Silly idea, huh? Then again, perhaps it's not. Click circles (herein redefined as "houses of trustitution") maintain a firm foothold in the Epinions community halfway to the company's first decade. It's been suggested that the first click circle formed ten minutes after the first outside member placed that inaugural opinion in the database some five years ago. Ahhh, those were the days, back when hit counts updated in real time and you could watch your little nest egg grow with every member visit. Only a few current contributors recall the glory days, back before thirty cents per hit went away (in January, 2000), garnering even casual contributors hundreds or thousands of dollars in royalties. As for me, I can just barely remember the days when members still got one to three cents per hit. That was before the site went to a penny per hit (April, 2001) and then did away with Base Eroyalties altogether (November of the same year).
In those halcyon days of thirty cents per hit, click circles could - and most assuredly did - generate royalties to the tune of several tens of dollars every day for members. Don't think so? I've seen opinions that logged sixty member ratings over two days in January, 2001 - well over a year after being written*. Submit three of those to your circle (the magic number always seems to be three for some reason), and at peak royalties that was fifty-four dollars in just two days, all for writing a couple of paragraphs, sending an email, and clicking on your friends' opinions in return - always reciprocate, because trustitutes have no use for people who don't return the favor. Eighteen dollars each for three opinions: that's about the co-pay on my prescription plan; plus enough to fill the tank on my CR-V (if it's not too low); plus more than the monthly cost of most dial-up ISPs. What some people wouldn't do to get those clicks! Small wonder there's no such thing as Bonus or Base Eroyalties any more...
Do Epinions members still participate in click circles? You bet your boots they do, only they call 'em "reading circles." If you're not convinced, head over to any site that has free bulletin boards and search on "Epinions." Over at Yahoo Groups, there are sixty-four Epinions-related groups! and some of those are public, so you can see exactly what goes on inside. Don't just take my word for it: drop in and read a few of those messages. Take a look at a group's home page: most of them were going great guns in 2000, with thousands of messages per month; but when "pennies-per-hit" dried up in 2001 most died off. One or two, though, still rack up more than a thousand messages every month - with rules like "you may post only three links per day." Do you know anyone who regularly writes three opinions per day? I don't.
Take another look at those public groups - see the messages claiming that "here's an old review that needs some attention"? or "here's an oldie that needs some lovin'"? Go ahead, click on some of those links, then look at all its ratings sorted by date. Somebody, anybody out there: convince me that it's mere happenstance that ten, twenty, thirty people all chose to visit the same opinion on the same day - three years after it was written. I can tell you that not one review of my 500-plus has ten hits on any day more than a month after it was written - updated or not.
For some reason - desperation? pure ego? some members find it necessary to continue begging their friends in "reading circles" to revisit old reviews. Often, they don't even bother with the subterfuge of an "update." Perhaps they're hoping to rise in the "MPA/MPO" lists? Who knows...
"So what's the big deal?" you ask, "Isn't trustitution a victimless crime?" Let me tell you a little story: once I had an opinion that generated a few bucks per month in IS, and then one month it tailed off severely. No big deal, I thought - these things happen. One day not long ago, though, I used mobiprof's Pricetool tip for seeing opinions in the same order that non-members see them ranked. I was number two on that topic, with no "hatted" members in front of me. "Aha!" I thought. And so I read the number one opinion - definitely VH material - but there was something odd about the dates on the ratings. Sure enough, I found a cluster of VH ratings on the opinion corresponding to the month in which my IS dropped off: eight months after the review had been written. Does that mean the IS I had been getting was now being siphoned off to another member's pocket by the addition of fifteen or so new VH ratings? Draw your own conclusion - I know what mine is.
So our friends the trustitutes are playing games with ratings in hopes that their opinions will float to the top of the rankings. But wait, there's more: the very definition of a trustitute is someone who trusts click-circle friends and blocks those who don't play by the circle's rules. Their Trust Lists are interconnected like a nest of snakes; and (rumor has it) they gang-block people who complain: who knows, I may disappear under the weight of all those blocks in the next few days... What does that mean for you? Combine the massive WOTtage of all those reciprocal trusts with a slew of additional "late" ratings on the circle members' opinions, and whoever isn't playing along gets buried well down in the rankings. Heaven help you if there are two or three competing circle-jerkers in the rankings or - worse yet - members of competing circles (there are several out there, I fear). Remember - these people don't read, they just click the VH button**! The upshot? it doesn't matter that you've written an intelligent, informative opinion suffused with wry humor and self-deprecating wit; if some click-circle member has dumped out a formulaic piece of twaddle on the topic you'll never make it to the top.
It can happen to you. It does happen to you: in just a cursory glance through the opinions, I've found literally hundreds that have such "suspicious" little clusters of late ratings. They're in every category, they're on opinions from six months to four years old, and sometimes they're in the first few days after an "update" (Bushwa!)
Still think it's a victimless crime? During the Epinions Dark Ages - while the Automated Advisor Selection System (AASS) - also known as the "hatbot" - chose "Advisors," and later "NAs" and "TRs" (chosen by Automated New Advisor Selection System [ANASS] and Top Reviewer Automated Selection System [TRASS], respectively) solely by application of a mathematical algorithm, the variables in that arcane selection equation most certainly referenced the candidates' number(s) of ratings in the target category, number(s) of "highly-rated" new opinions in the target category, and overall "quality of Trust List." To even the most casual observer, it should be obvious that trustitution either purposely or inadvertently (does it make a difference?) imparts an advantage to circle members. First, the mechanical awarding of dozens of rubberstamped ratings helps raise a member's rating count - the better to be a NA. Second, receipt of dozens of rubberstamped VH ratings on every new submission - often three or four times as many ratings as the next highest opinion in the rankings - helps raise a member's ranking in the TR sweepstakes. Third, the practice of myopically awarding automatic reciprocal trusts to all members of one's circle (and more than one "player" is a member of multiple circles) raises the "strength" of one's WOT. The result? Trustitutes garnered large numbers of "hats" during the Dark Ages. Worse, many of them still have their legacy NAs and TR positions, because the hatbot still suggests to CLs that these members are "worthy." So were complainers right when the Category Lead program was instituted in 2002? does the program maintain a status quo in which circle-jerkers and trustitutes glom onto all the glory, and most of the income share? Without careful attention to the activities of NA and TR candidates across the entire site, it's likely that most CLs remain as blissfully unaware of the power of the trustitution lobby as does the "hatbot."
The great "update" hoax! Do you get emails from people asking you to re-rate an updated opinion? Do you see those messages in the boards you frequent? Here's one way to find out whether your personal chain is being jerked: visit www.archive.org and enter the URL in their Wayback machine. If the "updated" opinion is more than a few months old, there's a good chance that the original version (not to mention any interim updates) is preserved for all eternity by that blessed site. That's where you'll learn that some members' idea of an "update" consists of changing a comma or something equally minor. Don't believe me? Here's a review I wrote a year or so ago and updated this month: http://www.epinions.com/content_88664804996 - go ahead and compare the current version to the version you can find with the Wayback Machine at www.archive.org (submit the URL to the Wayback Machine). I dare you! There are other ways to catch these people in the act, but I ain't telling - and if you know, keep your mouth shut, OK? Some trustitutes believe that adding a paragraph with "current pricing info" or simply stating that "I still have it and it still works fine" is an update - but why on earth should a member be interested in such an "update" when these opinions are supposed to be for consumer research!
So who are the trustitutes? I ain't saying: I want you to figure it out for yourselves. Look at those public boards, do a little backtracking on some of the older messages begging for hits on "oldies." You'll quickly pick up the pattern of names - that's what opened my eyes. I will say that the ranks include a disproportionate number of people with titles - TRs, NAs, even a CL or two (take another look at the "staff list" above). I compiled a list of players who are heavily into this game and the opinions that are the game pieces, and I'll turn it over to Brisbane when I think they're ready to do something about it.
What can you do? Easy. When you catch a trustitute in action, drop him or her from your Trust List and even block him or her if you think these games are that damaging. Oh, and look out for messages on the various boards that say, "scmrak calling people names and telling you who to trust." I sure as hell am not telling you who to trust: I'm informing you about behavior that's hurting you and hurting the site. What you do with that information is up to you.
You know what else you can do? Raise hell with Brisbane. Complain. Don't take it sitting down - it's time to wrest Epinions back from the cabals of trustitutes. Remember - if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Or something like that.
Right On! This opinion is an entry in the EpiLustrous Write-on hosted by mobiprof. For more information, see that profile page - oh, and participants? Remember, you're not supposed to rate!
* remember, "date rated" information is unavailable for ratings before 11 January 2001. More's the pity, 'cause otherwise we'd be able to see the real deal!.
** a few of the sneakier ones click the button that corresponds to the opinion's overall rating. That way, they can pretend that they're not rubber-stamping...