Big data, stupid decisions #LAK12


Just listening to Panagiotis Ipeirotis talking about how data is used to influence buying choices #LAK12. A really interesting talk which explores how ratings and seller reputation weigh more heavily in the buying decision than price.

But more interestingly, it’s how the ratings or reviews are presented that make the biggest impact. What may appear to be a fantastic rating – he gives the example of ‘AAA+++ seller’ – can actually be a huge turn off. So what’s going on here? Ipeirotis suggests that a bland or meaningless review comment is treated by us with such disdain that it can actually lead to negative purchasing behaviour.

He goes on to discuss the effect that poor spelling and grammar has on how we receive the opinions of others. A poorly written, but very positive review can have a negative impact whilst a well written, but slightly damning review can be received beneficially.

What does this say about us and our sub conscious judgements of others? I guess if I’m honest, I probably have a tendency to dismiss online customer reviews if they are badly written, perhaps making the assumption as Ipeirotis suggests that the reviewer is not ‘competent’ to make a sound judgement. Ouch – my own in-built snobbery coming to the fore here.

So far, so interesting, and I was thinking about how I might take this forward with the online tutors that I work with. I see quite a few samples of their feedback on student assignments and am often disappointed at the number of typos and grammatical errors there (note to self – check this carefully before publishing!). I was left wondering whether students have a similar reaction and give less weight perhaps to tutor feedback when it contains typos. A sensitive issue to pursue though, so will mull over carefully.

I’m not sure that I’d be brave enough to do as Ipeirotis has done and re-write the feedback of others to remove their mistakes. Although he shows that this has the desired impact of improving audience reception of reviews (and a subsequent positive flow through to sales or perception of a product), and in spite of ensuring that the edits are approved by the authors and flagged to the public, it still feels wrong. I’m not sure why this is – certainly from the seller’s perspective it must be all good. From the buyer’s point of view though, I’d go back to my gut feel that I want to see what the original writer has said, warts and all. Ratings and reviews should reflect two things – an opinion about the product or service itself and an image of the reviewer so that I can choose to ignore or embrace the opinion.

I think I found this so interesting because it sparked off a number of internal debates for me, about my own in-built perceptions, about the purposes and shortcomings of public reviews, but mostly about the truth or otherwise of the data that we’re accessing. I guess I just want to see the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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About sharonslade

Dr Sharon Slade is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Law at the Open University in the UK working to support both tutors and students on Open University distance learning modules and programmes. Her research interests encompass ethical issues in learning analytics and online learning and tuition. Project work includes the development of a student support framework to improve retention and progression and the development of a university wide tool for tracking students and triggering relevant and targeted interventions. She led the development of new policy around the ethical use of learning analytics within the Open University, UK.
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3 Responses to Big data, stupid decisions #LAK12

  1. r3becca says:

    I found this interesting, because it ties in with my work around online communication – the extent to which it is like speech and the extent to which it is like writing. For me, the work around reviews shows that people aren’t just focused on the words in communications – they’re interested in many other aspects. A well written review takes time to put together and proof read – I’d pay more attention for that reason. If somebody else goes through correcting the grammar and the punctuation, they have changed the meaning of the original communication. If they do that without giving me as the reader any clue that the review has been edited, then I’m being misled.

  2. Andrys Onsman says:

    I’m not so sure that an edited version of a review actually does convey an intrinsically different meaning but on the other hand I guess we tend to (cognitively) herd with likeminded people and a third party editor takes that opportunity away. In terms of on-line tutors’ comments, they ought to be part of the whole learning environment and contribute to the stated learning objectives.

    • sharonslade says:

      Hi Andrys – I guess for me the editing of someone else’s comment is giving it a different identity in some way, or associating it with another identity, at least. Although the meaning itself may not be altered, the strength of the argument may be subtly changed. But I take your point, and thanks for the comment here 😮

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