DIY book reviews

The NYTimes reports that Amazon is changing out how it filters book reviews.

The changes seem to be directed at curbing reviews that are posted by family and friends. Amazon knows a lot about how people are related, broadly speaking. So I'll bet their new filters are effective.

1896_Review_of_Reviews_NY_v13_no77But some reviewers and those reviewed are upset to find previously posted reviews no longer on Amazon's site.

The objections ring hollow to me.

I'm not shy about suggesting that a private network can become so important to public discourse, it should be run as a public commons. For instance, I've advocated in the past that the Gates Foundation should buy Twitter and run it as a global utility.

But Amazon has always been a store and has always been understood as such. The social aspects of the site - telling you what you might like to buy - are all centered around making additional sales. That Amazon does so in a way that makes shopping easier, without seeming to "hard sell," speaks well of how the company strikes the balance.

Getting rid of shill reviews is likely a decision being made in the interest of keeping the right tone on the site and maximizing sales.

People who want to be sure to avoid the loss of their reviews should post them elsewhere.

The situation reminds me of something Eric Goldman said on his and Venkat Balasubramani's blog the other day: "There's only one way for users to truly control the fate of their online digital assets, and that's to host all of their content on their own website."

Some smart, influential people already post book reviews on their own website. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and the aforementioned Gates Foundation, does this.

I post book reviews under the "books" category on this blog, and also on the system the Seattle Public Library uses. (Here's a sample, a thread on the new Ian McEwan novel, Sweet Tooth, which I also posted about, twice, on this blog.)

A problem, of course, with having reviews disaggregated across the web is that they can be hard to find. But this need not be that case, not for long. An interim solution might be some kind of River 2 aggregator, pulling RSS feeds of individual book review sites or pages from across the web.

Image: Wikimedia.


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