Amazon reviewers and Web 2.0

I had imagined Amazon’s customer reviews as a refuge from the machinations of the publishing industry: “an intelligent and articulate conversation … conducted by a group of disinterested, disembodied spirits,” as James Marcus, a former editor at the company, wrote in his memoir, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut.

Given Amazon’s lack of greater transparency, it’s hard to judge the merits of the vote-swapping claims. What is clear is the corruptibility of democracy, Web 2.0-style.
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This is not to say that a Top 10 ranking doesn’t come with some sub rosa incentives for the reviewer. Free books, first and foremost; in an e-mail, Grady Harp told me he was “inundated with books from new writers and from publishers who know I love to read first works.” This fall, when it invited select Top Reviewers to join its Vine program–an initiative, still in beta-testing, to generate content about new and prerelease products–Amazon extended the range of perks. “Vine Voices” like Mitchell and Harp can elect to receive items ranging from electronics to appliances to laundry soap. As long as they keep reviewing the products, Amazon’s suppliers will keep sending them.

Who Is Grady Harp? Amazon’s Top Reviewers and the fate of the literary amateur.” By Garth Risk Hallberg, Slate, January 22, 2008

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