Free-flowing reviews

Apr 06 2014, 03:01 IST
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SummarySome apps have started allowing people to rate wines. The collective score is available for anyone to browse: democratic and transparent

THE NATION is clearly in the throes of election mania and the fever has gripped every citizen. We all seem to have woken up to a new sense of empowerment: combing through newspapers, analysing every bit of information floating about, browsing online and watching interviews and shows. It is as if we have somehow realised just how important it is to exercise our right to vote and how crucial it is that we choose, no euphemisms here, the lesser of the presented evils. That, my friends,

is democracy.

I mention this because, a few weeks ago, I met Nikhil Ganju, who heads the operations for TripAdvisor in India. I am sure you know of this website, this massive portal of information, a mammoth mothership of reviews and opinions. If you haven’t yet used it, you must have certainly heard of it—a portal that lists hospitality establishments (hotels, restaurants, bars) and allows people to comment on, share pictures and experiences, and also rate these places. Conceptually, the idea doesn’t seem very powerful or authoritative; in fact, it sounds rather scattered and ridden with ambiguity as an isolated attempt. But extrapolate the idea over a few million people, and then some more, and you have a great platform for self-generating and self-propagating democratic reviews.

Democracy, in all its glory, only truly works when the maximum numbers participate actively and enthusiastically. Even when opinions abound, democracy has a way of absorbing the anomalies. For example, the same place can receive contrasting reviews on the same day from two different sets of visitors. Perceptions and interpretations are highly idiosyncratic and to rely on a few is never advisable. But imagine the cumulative readings from a few million people all talking about the same place! Even if one were to discount for gullible clients (who don’t know what to expect), the influential (who get more than your average, for example, food critics), the unintelligent (best not explained) or the unfazed (the cool, calm types), what we are finally left with is the precipitated average of the wisdom of a world’s worth of patrons.

It is akin to grouping all types of clients, from people who get great service to none at all, and all forms of expectations, from desiring personal butlers to self-service, and then throwing them in the same cauldron and brewing up a collective rating for a place.

Safe to say, the system works and

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