Who Ya Gonna Trust?

Joe Isuzu - You Have My Word On ItOur summer has been pretty hectic and full of uncertainty, so we put off planning a short vacation until just this past weekend. We usually go up to Big Bear and stay at this one place that is dog friendly and has a pool for the kids and is close to town. We’ve stayed there 3 times before and have always been very happy.

This past Saturday morning, I Googled the name of the resort in order to get the web address when I noticed that there was a Trip Advisor listing for the place. So, I thought I’d check it out. Much to my surprise there was a slew of negative reviews. I dug a little further and found that many of these reviews were placed around the same date (since we had been there last) by people who only rated this one place and who had very similar complaints. These reviews seemed suspicious, but who knew, maybe some had merit. These could be legit or they could be someone posting them on the behalf of competing resorts to discredit their competitor.

As I surfed a little more, I found comments on some other pages indicating that this sort of negative posting on rating sites had become epidemic for Big Bear. Who knew that the lodging industry in this cozy little town in the mountains was so cutthroat? It’s a good example of a lose-lose strategy. Now I can’t trust any of the ratings!

In the end we ended up booking at a different resort, mostly due to other factors, but admittedly also due in part to the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) caused by these reviews.

On Sunday morning I came across an article  that describes how one PR firm allegedly hires interns “to trawl iTunes and other community forums posing as real users, and has them write positive reviews for their client’s applications.” Now, I knew that this sort of mischief happened, but I thought it was all amateurish behavior on the part of overzealous business owners and their fans. I did not realize it was an actual service one could select from a PR firm. How brazen!

On the other hand, maybe this article I read was actually secretly sponsored by a competing PR firm in order to discredit the PR firm being decried in the article. Who is to believe whom? Hmmm…..

Before you say that I am naïve about all this behavior, I’m not. The verification methodology survey I posted back in February was vandalized by VMM and OVM fans. And more than a year ago, someone copied a blog post of mine onto comp.lang.verilog for the sole purpose of posting in response a personal attack on my credibility. I’ve seen this stuff first hand.

A big part of the problem is anonymity and impunity. When someone uses a fictitious name and email address to post such a review as the one described above, we never know who that person is and he never suffers any consequences. After all, who is Vactioner287 after all? However, let’s say that one could only leave a comment by using his LinkedIn profile. I bet that would kill 99% of the issues right there.

(Actually, it would probably result in a proliferation of fictitious LinkedIn accounts, but then you could tell pretty well from those accounts that they are fakes since they’d be very bare. To some extent, like metastability, you can never totally get rid of the problem … you can only make it less likely.)

Most websites that accept reviews require registration. Although the hassle of registration deters some legitimate people from leaving legitimate comments, it also beneficially deters those with malicious intentions to a great degree. Almost all the online communities in EDA require some sort of registration, the Synopsys blogs being the only one that I can name that does not.

So, who ya gonna trust?

Personally, there are 3 types of people who I trust on the internet and they are as follows:

  1. People I already know and trust - These are people who I know personally. Maybe they are current or former colleagues or customers or suppliers or partners or friends. I have reason to trust them because I know them.
  2. People I’ve come to trust - These are people whom I have come to know through the internet who have demonstrated over a period of time that they are trustworthy. Maybe it’s a blogger who has proven to be right most of the time. Or whose advice rings true. Or who provides me with valuable information and insight. Hopefully, I am one of those people for you.
  3. People I’ve been told to trust by others I trust - This is where social capital and influence come into play. If someone I trust links to someone else, then I gain trust in that person to whom he is linking. If he’s on his blogroll. If he’s a guest blogger. If he’s written a book that is referred to. Not that everyone that is referenced is automatically trustworthy, but it helps.

If you were to look at my Google Reader and see who I subscribe to, they pretty much fall into the 3 categories above. That gives me plenty to read.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help too much with the situation I originally described, because Vacationer287 doesn’t fall any of these categories. What do you do then? Ask yourself the following:

  1. Did he write anything else under this name or did he just join to post this one review. If the former, then he may be legit (you need to look at what they wrote). If the former, that’s suspicious.
  2. Did he use a real name? Vandals often hide behind fictitious and non-descript names.
  3. Does it pass the smell test? I can smell bad milk without a lab test and you can too. Does it all make sense or does some of the writeup just seem too good or bad to be true?

I don’t know if this post helps you or confuses you more. Probably, it confuses you because now you have to consider why and how you come to trust some people and not others on the internet. That’s good. From reconciling confusion comes understanding.

Trust me, you have my word on it.

harry the ASIC guy

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9 Responses to “Who Ya Gonna Trust?”

  1. tim schneider Says:

    Great post Harry! Definitely have seen this sort of stuff on iTunes, Amazon and many other ‘forums’. It’s pretty rampant on Twitter and starting to creep into Facebook and other social networking sites. I’ve not seen as much of it on LinkedIn.

    While not funny, (re: comp.lang.verilog post) I did get a chuckle at ‘Hairy’ the ASIC guy :-) obviously that person has a ‘metastability’ problem!

  2. jeff sobieraj Says:

    good post. I use Trip Advisor frequently for reviews on potential vacation hotels. What i typically do is send an email or reply to a specific reviewer for more details. Its the only way i can ferret out the author’s credibility.

    other than that, i look at the volume of reviews, and figure if there is an adequate number of posts, and if most are favorable, it must be ok. I have checked places i like a lot, and read the negative reviews some write, and therefore conclude there are certain people you can never please!

    jeff

  3. Jeff Jorvig Says:

    Harry,
    Great post! I think in many cases we let our guard down when dealing with contacts on the internet. The anonymous ability let’s people portray themselves in any way they wish, to leverage or sway another. I liken in somewhat to the CB radio days of old when people would become a fictitious character to gain some type of leverage over another, again enabled by the anonymous aspect of contact. We just need to maintain vigilance and make no assumptions about the motivations of our casual contacts via the internet.

    Jeff

  4. Bob Dwyer Says:

    Hi Harry,

    First off, it was nice to meet you at DAC. Second, I thought this was a really well written piece that that touches on points that come into play on so many different subject areas online. It’s really hard to find someone truly unbiased to write authentically on any topic, let alone filter out those trying to game the system for their gain.

    One minor point related to EDA communities and registration requirements… I realize it’s not the main focus of this entry, but I wanted to mention that Cadence.com doesn’t require registration to read/comment on our blogs and we don’t require registration to read the forums. Registration is only required to add new forum entries and create a community profile. When we first launched, we did require registration to comment on blogs, but that was changed shortly thereafter.

    Best regards,
    Bob Dwyer
    Cadence Design Systems

  5. Steve Meier Says:

    Hi Harry: You clearly articulate a major whole in the internet rating systems, which we hope to solve on our site. There are some good reputation systems at Stack Overflow, Yelp, Ebay, but clearly TripAdvisor is behind the curve. One conundrum is registration and identity as these are both required, but going towards centralizing with a single global id. Another problem is that reputation is also by topic. I may be an expert on P&R, but not on analog sim, yet if I have a single reputation developed for P&R and I post something analog then it would falsely attribute weight to my viewpoint. Lot’s of fun challenges to solve to get to a cleaner net.

  6. Ry Schwark Says:

    Harry,

    Nothing new here.

    check out: http://www.cracked.com/article/100_the-5-ballsiest-lies-ever-passed-off-as-journalism/

    Skepticism is a necessary part of critical thinking. Don’t believe everything you read.

    One of the annoying things about being in PR is it is like being a lawyer. There are a ton of great lawyers, but there’s always some sleezeball who makes the rest look bad. False reviews violates the public relations society’s code of ethics, but there’s no disbarment in our world. Oh well. Just don’t think the rest of us are cool with this. We’re not. Our job is to tell the truth the best way we know how. But it has to be the truth.

    PS. We’ve rolled registration for blog comments on mentor.com too. But it wasn’t about controlling legitimate comments, it was about controlling spam. Because really, do you need to read the comment from Mrs. Thomas Lucerne who needs help taking out her $23 million dollars from the federal bank of Nigeria? To the extent we don’t get spam, we’ll drop registration requirements.

  7. Ry Schwark Says:

    …rolled BACK registration for blog comments on mentor.com…

  8. Karen Bartleson Says:

    I’m so glad you told this story, Harry. I was part of the “Hairy” situation, too. The person who doubted that I had indeed written my own blog post and definitely work for Synopsys was obviously mistaken. I’m not even sure that person was real since there was evidence that he was not. It was not a fun experience.

    Anyway, the values of transparency and credibility in the land of Web 2.0 go far in establishing us as trustworthy.

    And yes, I trust you.

  9. Avidan Efody Says:

    I guess some form or another of the phenomena you referred to as “OVM and VMM fans vandalism”, might also account for the fact that you did not win the “EDA’s next top blogger” competition, although you surely deserved it ;-)

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