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Topic: iLounge Ends Review Astroturfing: Please Read

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Old 09-17-2007, 02:50 PM

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iLounge Ends Review Astroturfing: Please Read

Reader comments are important to us -- and to other readers. But recently, corporate marketers have been anonymously abusing our comments system, attempting to mislead readers with overly positive comments about their own products, or overly negative comments about their competitors. This practice is known as "astroturfing," or the creation of artificial grass roots support, and has been banned on iLounge since January, 2006. Today, we have taken another step to end astroturfing on iLounge, and are explaining it here.

For years, our reviews and First Looks have been widely considered to be important and influential resources of information about iPod- and iTunes-related products. We have taken pride in including reader comments immediately alongside these articles, to enable additional points to be made, and in some cases, offer details about updated, post-review versions of the products. Because we know that company representatives sometimes want to add comments, we have very conspicuously offered them this opportunity, provided that they are willing to honestly and publicly identify themselves as representatives.

Unfortunately, certain companies have been using iLounge's comments system -- as well as similar comment systems on major retail sites -- to post phony product reviews. Why? Company representatives have told us that they are under pressure from retailers to generate positive reviews in order to keep their products stocked and selling, and that in some cases, their products will be dropped by the retailers if their ratings are too low. Rather than making better products, the companies feel pressured to generate positive comments on their own, and the retailers don't stop them.

The consequence has been an influx of comments such as these:

(1) The Ultra-Positive: "Absolutely amazing! I cannot believe how great this is!!! There is no greater earphone. Perfect! Satisfaction guaranteed! Amazing bass and perfect treble at any volume! Trust me, you must buy this, it is incredible quality!"

(2) The Stealth Positive: "When I first looked at this speaker, I thought: why do they not include a carrying case? To me, the most important thing about a speaker is its carrying case. But then I realized that the price was so amazing, and the sound was so amazing, that I could buy my own case or use the one I already had. I bought this and have not been disappointed. A+ highly recommended!"

(3) The Ultra-Negative: "I have purchased 15 different iPod cases in the last month, including this, and returned them all except one. The ones I returned all have awful quality and none are made with the refined nitrogen infusion process that everyone knows is so important. If you are thinking of buying this case, forget it and get the other one instead!"

Our moderation staff has worked hard to shut down the phony comments as they've come in, and where appropriate, publicly or privately warned the companies to knock them off. But in recent months, we've had more and more comments to close, and the astroturfers have become sneakier. Confronted with the choice of whether to allow our review pages to be filled every day with this junk, or make a radical change to our comments system, we very reluctantly chose the second option -- after many months of internal debate.

iLounge is committed to maintaining the integrity of our coverage: unlike retail sites that encourage super-positive reviews to generate sales, we are not interested in selling you anything. The mission of our product review pages is to provide you with factual information -- and our honest, objective big picture perspective -- so you can make your own informed buying decisions. Biased comments from anonymous marketers, their relatives and friends only detract from this mission.

Starting today, we have replaced the comment boxes on our review and First Looks pages with a new graphic.

These buttons enable comments on specific products to be made in our Discussion Forums, where our superb team of moderators has been working for years to screen out spammers, astroturfers, and others who are interested in using cheap-shot marketing tactics to sell their products to our readers. The Forums give readers the ability to carry on the same product-focused discussions they had on the main iLounge site, with added security, as well as the ability to easily report problem posts (use the ! mark at the top of any message).

Legitimate reader comments are extremely important to us, and we continue to appreciate the contributions you have made. We look forward to reading and responding to your comments in the Forums.

Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief,
Dennis Lloyd, Publisher,

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Old 09-17-2007, 03:37 PM
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I appreciate that you're considering the problem and the best way of dealing with it. I've been a moderator at a tech site such as this, and I understand that sometimes it feels like there are no great options to deal with a problem, so you just make the best decision possible. But, you asked for feedback, so here are some specific comments:

1) I read the majority of the reviews and first looks on here, and either I've been overly naive or you've cleaned up the astroturfed posts before I noticed, because I haven't really seen this as a major issue when reading through the comments. I like having the comments in the reviews themselves to provide alternative viewpoints or questions to consider. Based on what I've seen, removing the comments from the review entirely seems like overkill.

2) If you do decide to stick with the change, it seems like the link to 'Discuss this product' should take you to a newly created thread regarding the review, and not just to the main Forum home page. The latter seems to be confusing, and many people will not find the correct thread to discuss the product.

Again, I love the site and appreciate all the work that you put in!!
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Old 09-17-2007, 04:16 PM
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I appreciate the need to shut down the abuse of general comments. The switch to the Forum discussion bothers me a bit, though, as it isolates the comments from the actual review or article to which they refer. rldunn's idea of creating a new thread that's specifically for each review/article might be a good approach, but it misses the mark unless the full article is also available in the Forum to provide appropriate context.

Would it be possible to apply a vetting system? For example, allowing comments to be posted by Senior Loungers and above? By 100 posts, the mods have plenty of opportunity to see if the poster is legit.

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Old 09-17-2007, 04:56 PM

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rldunn, re:

(1) We also liked (obviously ) having comments on the reviews. But imagine trying to police a database of ~2,000 products from separate pages. As a reader, your attention might be focused on one or two of those products on a given day, but moderators have to deal with all of them. It is a more drastic measure than we wanted to take, but over time, it became necessary.

(2) I agree entirely. This was also my preferred solution. I'm hoping that we can make it happen soon.

Aceon: See 2 above, and having the full text in the forum would be part of my preferred solution. Re: vetting, however, the amount of moderation required to manually approve the first 100 posts for every new user (and the limited likelihood of someone sticking around that long) makes that unlikely.

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Old 09-17-2007, 05:04 PM
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I would suggest that selecting the "discuss this product" link should take you to an already-existing thread, where the 1st post in the thread is a replication of the review. This thread could already be set up & ready to go when the article is 1st posted. Then, all the discussion of the product would be in one thread, and it would be easy to refer to the original review.
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Old 09-19-2007, 11:51 AM
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Please cast my vote for auto-linking to a pre-established thread. With the current setup, I get totally lost trying to find related comments. And I never know if any comments were ever posted in the first place.
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Old 09-19-2007, 04:54 PM
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i still dont understand this?

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Old 09-22-2007, 11:37 AM
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Very confusing new format for comments...

Hello Jeremy,

I too am confused regarding the new comments format. I tried to place a comment regarding your iPod touch review and got completely lost. A direct link to comments regarding a particular review would be ideal.
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Old 09-23-2007, 07:08 AM
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It says I have to be registered to post my comment even when I'm logged in, so here's my comment to Jeremy's most recent article about Apple's mis-steps (Posted on Sept. 20'th).

Once again Mr. Horwitz delivered another outstanding article that speaks the truth and is fair and reasonable. Someone should give Jeremy a bonus, this fan sure thinks so for Jeremy and the rest of iLounge not being a "suck up/censor truthful facts about Apple fan site".

Apple has changed a lot of their ways unfortunately. The biggest to me besides these were Apple shifting away from their white design. There are currently no white iPods, even though the line is called "Classic". Strange. The buggy software that hardcore fans excuse with "...well a firmware update came out" shouldn't be excused at all. It should be shipped in a fully functional way. I think Apple have taken these measures because the iPhone has been a huge flop and they're just not saying anything about it. Or its possible that they really are changing face.
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Old 09-23-2007, 10:13 AM

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Originally Posted by kylo4
It says I have to be registered to post my comment even when I'm logged in, so here's my comment to Jeremy's most recent article about Apple's mis-steps (Posted on Sept. 20'th).
FYI, the main site requires separate registration from the forums to post comments. Articles and News items still provide the capability for comments on the main site. Only product reviews have had the comments moved to the forums, since it was these areas where the problems were occurring.

We're working on getting proper discussion threads up for product review comments, but that requires a bit more integration work. In the meantime, the review->forums links have been updated to at least provide redirection to the specific relevant forum for that particular product category.

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Old 09-25-2007, 11:36 PM
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I trust you guys to make the right decision for your site...but it sucks that this step needs to be taken. I really enjoyed reading the comments after a review for a particular product, but I doubt that I will take the initiative to navigate to a new page to read them.
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Topic: iLounge Ends Review Astroturfing: Please Read

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