Why product ratings online are in jeopardy

I was browsing for some temporary fencing material today on HomeDepot.com

Saw the following “comment” posted by someone who used a subject line with the same name as the company that makes the fencing material, and a fairly generic review, followed by some suspicious text.

Screen Shot of Comment Text

Here is the original link to the product, probably still showing the comment at the bottom.

What is going on here? Why would the review contain “warning text” about how much to type?

Theory One:
At first I thought it was Tenax the company who just wrote a bot to go around giving fake reviews. But then I started thinking of more interesting scenarios, and wondering why, if it was a bot, it would need to give itself a “warning” message.

Theory Two:
Tenax hires Human to drive up its product ratings on various sites. Human becomes bored with this, and writes program to do the ratings for him/her, or perhaps Human wants the program to somehow assist him/her in doing more ratings faster (so perhaps Human is paid on a piece goods basis). But the program that the Human writes has a few bugs (this would also explain the grammar error).

Theory Three:
On the other hand, it might turn out that it’s a totally innocent mistake. Example: Actual Human may have copy pasted his/her review and grabbed some site-produced warning text by mistake. Argument for this theory: I went to make my own review of a gas range that I bought on the web site last week. I did find a similar message when I reached the correct length. (It starts by saying “You must write at least 50 characters for this field.” and then when you reach that it says “Minimum reached”.)

Argument¬†against the innocent mistake theory: I searched the homedepot.com javascript but could not find this exact text string with the grammar error in it. Remember, his warning says “The minimum required text had now been reached.”

Another argument for the innocent mistake theory: Well, maybe the code has changed between then and now. Maybe the site used to have bad grammar and now it doesn’t.

Hmmmm. I love this stuff.

Turns out the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot. How do I know? I noticed that the user’s name was unusual enough to possibly result in some searchability on Google. Turns out there’s a dude with the same unusual name as the Home Depot poster, cbwakko, and he has posted on Do-It-Yourself chatrooms in the past.

So this changes the probabilities somewhat.

New Theory One:
He’s just a guy with a bad sense for copy/paste, which is not interesting at all.

OR, New Theory Two:
Home Depot’s web site took his review and accidentally slapped this warning code on the end of it, which is slightly more interesting but still nothing to blog about.

In either case, information literacy for the win!

By the way, the “verified purchase” flag is supposed to be a tip-off that the reviewer is legit. It’s shorthand for “this person actually bought this product, according to our data”. But, if one of my theories above had been correct, and the company was in cahoots to produce fake reviews, it would be trivial to scam this.

Resolution: On the original product page, I clicked “flag” for this review and typed in as the reason for my flag, “This user has typed a review which sounds like a robot wrote it.”

We’ll see if they fix the review.

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