Amazon.com vs. the blogosphere
James Marcus, a former senior editor for Amazon.com, has an amusing essay in the Washington Post on the varying quality of Amazon’s customer reviews: Imagine that you’re circulating from room to room at an enormous cocktail party, with millions of guests, eavesdropping. Undoubtedly you will be treated to some gems, some brilliant bits of repartee, ...
James Marcus, a former senior editor for Amazon.com, has an amusing essay in the Washington Post on the varying quality of Amazon's customer reviews:
James Marcus, a former senior editor for Amazon.com, has an amusing essay in the Washington Post on the varying quality of Amazon’s customer reviews:
Imagine that you’re circulating from room to room at an enormous cocktail party, with millions of guests, eavesdropping. Undoubtedly you will be treated to some gems, some brilliant bits of repartee, the occasional burst of intellectual fireworks. Most of what you hear, however, will be pretty mundane, given the law of averages and the general human tendency to lose track of our thoughts halfway to completing them. Well, the same rule applies to customer reviews, both at Amazon and elsewhere. There’s plenty of wheat amid the chaff — but there’s lots of chaff, acres and acres of it, much of it lacking coherence, clarity, charity and punctuation. In a sense, it’s now the audience, not the editor, shouldering the burden of culling out the good stuff. Whether this represents a seismic shift in the cultural terrain or merely a fresh division of labor remains to be seen. If only there were some way to combine the speed and democracy of the Web with the more meditative character of traditional criticism. Oh wait, there already is: blogging. In some cases the convergence is quite literal — witness the case of Terry Teachout, reviewing for such Bronze Age bastions as the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Commentary with his left hand while blogging like mad with his right at his site, www.artsjournal.com/aboutlastnight. But even those bloggers who never venture into print have something in common with their opposite numbers in the traditional media: a name to besmirch, a reputation to smudge. It keeps them honest in a way that anonymous, duck-and-cover reviewing never can. It also encourages a kind of snarky civility, very welcome in our polarized era. This may change, of course, as the blogosphere moves further into the mainstream. Already there are turf wars, low-level spats. No doubt a pecking order will gradually materialize, since even cyberspace operates according to the familiar logic of Animal Farm: All bloggers are created equal, but some are more equal than others. There will be stars, contract players, boffo traffic numbers. There will be a proliferation of advertising on the most visible sites — there is already, in fact — and a defiant tug-of-war between the early bloggers and their entrepreneurial successors.
Here’s a provocative thought — does Marcus’ assessment of Amazon’s customer reviews also apply to the comments posted on blogs? Because bloggers lack the administrative resources/capabilities of Amazon.com, will this lead to the end of comment features over time? I’ll be further amused to see the customer comments on Marcus’ forthcoming book, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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