From The Independent:
Ralph Moore is a semi-retired teacher from Bishop’s Stortford who divides his time between working at his local school and writing reviews for Amazon. In five years he has produced more than 2,600 of them – working out at 1.3 reviews per day – and is in the top 300 of the site’s global reviewer rankings. He is one among thousands for whom Amazon reviewing has become a way of life, and he serves as a window into one of the more bewildering, and surprisingly fraught, corners of the internet.
Arriving at his home, I am met by the family’s Staffordshire bull terrier Snickers, then by a stack of CDs stretching the height and length of the hall. “Nothing,” I am told, compared with the stash Mr Moore keeps upstairs.
Trained as a singer in New York during the 1980s, where he briefly dated soprano Renée Fleming, it was here that Mr Moore, who is 60, developed his understanding of vocal recordings, while harbouring dreams of one day become a writer. “I don’t have a novel in me,” he says, “but I have always liked the form and style of reviews.” The arrival of Amazon allowed him to fulfil his ambitions.
Niche reviewing lends Mr Moore a rare integrity in an online environment built on uncertain credentials. He is a nerd of the highest order, a badge he wears with pride to accompany a smile that is permanently etched into the lines of his face. But for many others, the act of reviewing is less a source of enjoyment than the subject of mild and, in some cases, acute fixation.
. . . .
Amazon’s review function had become a stage for obsessive behaviour, bullying, trolling, sabotage and duplicity. It might sound strange to those on the outside, but as Mr Moore says, the level of hostility waged at certain echelons of this unlikely subculture can take an appalling toll.
“Given what I write about, you would think I’d escape the wrath of trolls,” he says. “But it isn’t the case. One of mine operates under 40 to 50 different pseudonyms and appears to track my every move.”
. . . .
Amazon’s vast, monolithic structure makes policing the review function on any detailed level impossible. Amazon still has a long way to go to monitor the dysfunctional behaviour of some of its most prolific users, some of whom claim that the review service fosters a sense of competition among reviewers for the sake of driving up sales.
Scrolling through the site’s top 10 ranked reviewers, few seem to boast any clear areas of interest equivalent to Mr Moore’s, and those who do rise to the top appear to do so through an indiscriminate approach of reviewing almost anything – from moisturiser to push-pins to thermal leg warmers.
I spoke to a reviewer who was at one time ranked No 1 in the UK charts. His average score was the lowest of any other reviewer in the Top 10, reflecting a system that he feels is increasingly swayed by the imperative to keep brands and suppliers onside. He said he had thought that the ranking system improved reviewing and promoted impartiality but now was concerned that it encouraged people to post more reviews, with the risk of some people even becoming “addicted”.
. . . .
In reality, Amazon has very little agency over the politics of its reviewing platform, whose tendency to attract abusive behaviour is likely the result of the unique opportunity it affords people of a certain predisposition. It’s a means of self-publicity that allows those so inclined to hide behind the appearance of delivering an important service. Unlike the bare-faced extroversion of other social media platforms, it attracts a unique strand of introverted egotism, one that appreciates attention but not necessarily the more conventional, or transparent, means of obtaining it.
Mr Moore says that ego plays a large part in writing reviews, and a certain narcissism certainly seems to underscore most of the conversations I have. Many of the reviewers I speak to come with prepared answers to my questions. In some cases, they “correct” my line of questioning with their own. Without the same level of self-assuredness as those who occupy the conventional blogosphere and accrue large followings on social media, the online reviewer is an altogether more sensitive breed, and seemingly much less equipped to deal with the inevitable vitriol that comes with publishing almost anything online.
“It’s nice to see yourself build a body of work and to express your opinion about things you care about,” says Mr Moore. “But I didn’t have the vaguest idea about this strange ranking system when I started and I still have absolutely no interest in being a part of it.”
Link to the rest at The Independent