The Wall Street Journal (subscription only) reports today that, without making a big fuss about it, Amazon.com has taken measures recently to encourage users to use their real names when posting reviews:
Earlier this month, the Web retailer quietly launched a new system, dubbed Real Names, that encourages users to append to their product reviews the name that appears on the credit card they have registered with Amazon. A logo saying “Real Name” appears beside such customer comments.
Amazon still allows reviewers to sign their comments with pen names, effectively concealing their identity from other Amazon users. But even these reviewers need to supply a credit card or purchase history. Previously, users could easily open multiple Amazon accounts from which they could post multiple reviews of the same product. The new system is intended to block that practice.
Many of you will remember the brouhaha on Amazon Canada a few months back, when the real names of anonymous and pseudonymous posters were inadvertently revealed, exposing all manner of fixing (authors reviewing their own books under fake names) and sabotage (folks going undercover to savage their enemies’ books). Also revealed in the incident was the growing influence of these customer reviews, and the company’s new policies only underline how seriously it takes them as part of the service it offers. “What we’re trying to do with this is add to the credibility of the content on this site,” says a spokeswoman. There’s more to the plan:
Over time, reviewers who opt to use pen names could become less visible on the site. Under the system in which users rate the usefulness of reviews, the most highly rated reviews appear in higher, more prominent sections of Amazon’s pages. If users believe that reviews with real names attached are more valuable, those will become the most visible on the site.
All of this makes me feel a bit prescient. Several years ago, when Amazon hadn’t yet started selling colanders and flip-flops, and “blog” was what I might say when the milk turned, I wrote a little piece about the site’s reader reviews for a publication that shall remain anonymous (and thus of dubious credibility). The article was sort of a lite version of the blog triumphalism you see all the time now (including from yours truly): Everyman now has a voice! Sometimes it speaks wisely; sometimes it’s absurd! And it just may be revolutionary.