If you're planning a trip and want to know what a hotel or resort is really like, there is no shortage of Web sites offering reviews. Some reviews are by travel critics and insiders, while others are purported to be from real customers. Problem is, a substantial number of these "real customer" reviews are, in fact, bought-and-paid-for opinions.
Known as "opinion spam," fake reviews can be had for as little as a nickel apiece from free-lancers in India and elsewhere. One solution to this problem is to create software that detects opinion spam and filters it out. That's the approach taken recently by some Cornell researchers, for instance.
But a more likely future for customer reviews will rely on social trust. You trust your friends, and probably the friends of your friends - people you don't personally know, but who are personally known to your own friends. And, compared to a completely anonymous stranger, you would be more likely to trust even the friends of your friends' friends. At least you know they're real people, and not paid reviewers or bots. There are more people in this network than you might think. Look at your own LinkedIn network, for instance. If you're like us, and you have around a thousand direct contacts, you'll likely have another 500,000 "second degree" contacts and as many as 10 million or more "third degree" contacts. And these are all real people.
So in the not-too-distant future, watch for customer review apps that allow you to find out not just what "reviewers" say about a product or service you're about to buy, but what the people in your own social network say about it.