It is time to break our passion for time stamps, and move on to valuing quality over recency.

“What’s he on about now?!?” I hear you cry.

Online reviews. More specifically, how to let the quality reviews bubble to the surface, and make the stupid ones drop off the bottom!

Vitriol! LOL! C wut I did? Me too!

Reading movie reviews in the iTunes Store, or software reviews in Apple’s App Store, or comments on YouTube or Instagram, etc,  makes one lose their faith in humanity. The sheer level of stupidity displayed by the average reviewer/commenter is enough to make one wish for the alien invasion to come as soon as possible!

Briefly, this user-submitted content can be broken down into a couple of categories:

  1. Tech Support questions asked in the wrong place
  2. Complaints unrelated to the product or content
  3. Illiterate or unintelligible streams of words
  4. Ill-informed or outright nutty opinions unsupported by facts
  5. Angry, vitriolic negative reviews
  6. Clueless SEO spammers
  7. Two-word, information free, “me too” comments
  8. Thoughtful criticisms of the content in question
  9. Well-reasoned and well-written positive reviews

There are few people in the world who can communicate well via the written word. It takes learning, practice, skill, and time, to gain the ability to write well. It is not something people do automatically or have an innate sense of.

So it stands to reason that very little of the written content on the internet is going to be of any quality or value at all.

And, looking at the evidence contained in the sources I listed above, it is clear that the sheer tsunami of crappy content is drowning the small percentage of quality content out there.

Crowdsource the Value

If 90% of the user-submitted content on the internet is useless garbage, then what can we possibly do to stem the tide, and – more importantly – make the User Comments sections on ALL sites a useful and valuable resource for the users, rather than a waste of screen real estate?

Give the audience a vote, and make it count.

Right now almost all of the sites I mentioned give the most recent comments/reviews greater priority than anything else. The most recent review, the most recent comment, the most recent like, are at the top, regardless of the quality of that content.

I suggest that you give every new comment a value of +10, and provide a + and a – button next to that number.

If someone finds the comment valuable, then they hit the + button, and the comment now has a value of +11. Conversely, if the viewer doesn’t like the comment, then they can downvote it and give it a count of +9. (Regular readers of Reddit will recognize this system. And some of its flaws.)

Accounts For The Opinionated

Whether you are in the iTunes Store, commenting on a photo in Instagram, or reviewing a YouTube video, nobody should be able to post or vote without an account. Every vote and every bit of submitted content should be tied to an active account on the service. This gives a level of protection against gaming the system, and raises the bar a bit by removing anonymous commenting and voting. Nefarious activities like logging into one account, voting, logging out and logging into another account to vote again is time consuming and frustrating for the average user, and can also be easily tracked – and stopped – on the server, if the site owner is inclined to put in the effort.

Bubbling Up the Quality

The key thing is that quality reviews and comments will bubble up to the top of the list as people vote for them. Vitriolic comments, ill-placed tech support complaints, and drivel will naturally fall off the bottom of the page as they get downvoted into oblivion.

Since new comments automatically appear with a positive vote count, they should always appear to the viewer, and therefore would get the chance to be upvoted. You could also set your threshold so the system never showed comments that were voted down to a 0 or less.

Implementing this simple change would not only improve the quality of the user-generated comments we see on the internet, it would also be an educational tool for the other viewers. Reading well-written and well-reasoned commentary is one of the most important ways someone can improve their own writing. So by raising the bar on the comments that people read, we also do a service to the readers.

Switch Focus from Time to Quality

Please, let’s switch our focus. Because something happened recently, that does not make it important. The quality of the comment is what makes it important, and that quality is apparent to even the dopiest reader. Empowering the crowd to vote for quality is the only way we are going to make the User Comments section of any site or tool a valuable bit of screen real estate.