Review Moderation on HappyCow
Posted by webmaster at 08/30/2008
We'd like your feedback on our review system here at HappyCow.
Here's a little background before you respond:
Some topics we'd like feedback on are:
- How do you feel about members who write reviews on places they've never been to?
- What (if anything)should be done with a negative review by a member who's only written one review ever?
- Should HappyCow keep reviews indefinitely, or should they expire after a set time (i.e.. 2 years)
- Should members who write reviews be asked to display their true identity (full name)
- Any other relevant points you can think of.
Thanks for your input!
Eric & the Cows
Another possibility is a new field when writing reviews: "Have you eaten here? Y/N"
How do these ideas sound?
Obviously the whole point of reviews is to give peoples different opinions on a place. I know this can be a delicate subject as we don't want to offend anyone.
I would suggest that if a place gets a negative review that review is put on hold until someone else gets to review the same venue. If they are two negative reviews then go ahead and publish both. If the second review is positive then still publish both. It's important to give a full scope of people's experiences. But don't just publish one negative review by someone who hasn't reviewed before.
I think reviews should be kept indefinitely yes - for the simple fact that hopefully they will be updated by members who have reviewed the same places more recently. Gives a better overall review that way.
I think the true identity should be optional, not everyone is happy to have their name branded about the internet and I can understand that.
1. A "Commentary" entry would definitely be worthwhile. There have been times when I've gone to a restaurant, but wasn't able to eat there (because they were closed, or they were closing and not allowing anyone inside, or some other reason). If the situation were unusual enough to warrant a post or a comment (such as when I was turned away from a restaurant that was still 30 minutes to close), the reviewer shouldn't be able to assign a rating, but should be able to offer some advice/commentary for future HappyCow folks that might want to try the place.
2. Whether or not to allow negative reviews by someone who's only written one review is a tricky situation. On one hand, the negative review could be done on a grudge. On the other hand, maybe the reviewer is someone who normally doesn't like to write reviews, but felt obligated for that one particular case. I know many veg*ns who never write reviews or do ratings, but probably would go out of their way to write a negative review, if they really felt bothered by a particular restaurant. Personally, I feel all reviews should be allowed. This site is supposed to be a useful tool and a compendium of opinions from people everywhere, not a feel-good site where every restaurant listed is worthy of praise.
3. Reviews should not expire. It's helpful and important to be able to track a place's consistency, improvement or decay over time.
4. Members should not have to disclose their full name to write reviews. This is a vegetarian restaurant guide, not a vestige of the Patriot Act. Full identity disclosures will dissuade people from contributing to the site. I know that I wouldn't write reviews if I had to give out my full name. And I know others who think the same way.
5. I am no right-wing anti-regulation guy, but the more rules and terms and conditions and disclosures you add to the site, the less effective HappyCow will be. Examples: While I am a supporter of affirmative action, I am not a fan of HappyCow's ratings limitations for non-veg restaurants (why can a non-veg place only merit a maximum of four HappyCows?), nor do I believe that pure-veg places automatically deserve at least two cows. These restrictions skew the information on the site and don't accurately reflect people's opinions of restaurants.
The "purity" guidelines for restaurants, too, reduces the full potential of the site. In Minneapolis, for example, there are literally dozens of restaurants and cafes that offer great vegan options, but they are rejected by HappyCow because they're not veg enough. I personally like to try new restaurants and don't always go to the same places. I also like to learn tips and suggestions from other vegans about restaurants, bars and cafes in my neighborhood, the types of places that I'm likely to end up at, maybe because I'm out with friends or I'm just looking for something new. It's great to be able to know that a fellow vegan has vetted the cafe down the street and has confirmed that it has casein-free soy cheese, or it has at least one or two vegan options. It's especially nice to be able to know how vegan-friendly POPULAR places are (whether they have a soy cheese option or a vegan dessert, etc.), for times when you're out in a group. But that information will stay unknown if these "purity" guidelines continue.
And, ironically, it will discourage veganism from becoming more mainstream. If, for example, many veg*ns starting flocking to a particular bar-grill-tavern joint, because they saw it listed on a site and know it has a killer vegan burger (but nothing else on the menu is vegan), maybe the management would wake up and start offering even more vegan options.
But, as it stands, that type of information would never get out on HappyCow, because the restaurant wouldn't be deemed fit for listing. I think this defeats the purpose of the site.
The Veggie Cook08/30/2008 20:22:11
Obviously I think that pasting reviews from other sources should be banned altogether. Also, like in another case, if you didn't stick around for the meal, you should not be allowed to review it (hello).
I don't think it should only be negative reviews by one time reviewers, but also the positive. There are plenty of examples of folks spamming their own places and never logging in again. Also, a negative review is JUST AS legit as a positive one. No need to wait or hold off on posting it. I think it could also help the owner get it together if it is early in the game for them. I think if a member writes one or two reviews and then abandons the site after 6 months, or whatever the master deems worthy, then they should be deleted.
Reviews should remain indefinitely. No doubt about that one. The exception is for the abandoned ones. Also, I suppose I'd delete the "guest" reviews, since logging in is now required.
On true identities: would we have to give SSNs with them? How'd we verify that my name was not K Lizard? I think the other measures taken would narrow down the chances of one guy really hammering for or against a place.
A Few "others": one idea is if a reviewer has used the "favorite/top ten" selection, show it among the review, as if when seeing the review it would show that person has that cafe in their top ten.
Also, I think the same changes made for reviewers should go for responders. Responders that sign up only to mock a review is lame and should be deleted after a while, methinks.
Awesome tweaking. Great ideas Webmaster.
It is wonderful when anonymity is used positively / humorously to promote veg*n business / compassionate living on HappyCow.net.
Unfortunately some Members hide behind anonymity to bully & abuse other Members.
2. On the question of anonymity when reviewing a business -
Restaurant / stores are not anonymous - we know their addresses / contact numbers / website details.
I have suggested to Eric the Webmaster that he encourages Members to reveal their true identities - I have never suggested making it compulsory.
It is respectful to give your real name when publicly posting Reviews of a business.
Reviews from "real people" carry a lot of weight.
3. Here is an example of what I consider to be serious misuse of HappyCow.net by an anonymous "Reviewer" from yesterday.
http://www.happycow.net/members/profile_pb.php?id=18109 - the anonymous name chosen is "disappointedcustomer".
Review: Loving Hut is a spin off of International Vegetarian House in San Jose so we wanted to try the new place in Milpitas. Both times, we were very disappointed with the service. The food was good but the service needs a lot of improvement. Our food came late because the waitress forgot to put our orders in. We waited and our waitress disappeared leaving a waiter to follow-up on our order. 30 mins later the waiter comes back with out food and made a said, "food taste better when you are hungry". We would have been fine if the original waitress would have admitted the mistake and apologized for the delay, instead she hid behind the counter. There were only about 4 tables being served and service was very slow on our table. All the other tables were Chinese customers and we noticed that the restaurant served them before us but we were there first.
We promise not to go back there again even if there were only a limited number of restaurants around but with much better service. My husband and I travel many parts of the world and this was the worst service ever in our experience.
Pros: Good atmosphere * Good food * Reasonable Price
Cons: Bad Service * Favor Chinese Customers * Unfriendly Waiters/Waitress
So here HappyCow is being used to publish thinly veiled racial slurs & allegations of a staff member "hiding" from customers.
A person who chooses to call themselves "disappointedcustomer" is unlikely to ever contribute positively to this site.
This type of Review / ID needs to be deleted immediately.
Thanks for all your comments.
Like condekedar mentions, there are times when it's good that someone posts a message "Commentary" (review) on a place they've never been to, but ideally these should not carry a rating that counts towards total. Ideally the one writing should state in the review that he/she has never actually eaten there. Nevertheless, some people will lie, even if we added a "I've eaten here" checkbox. I don't have time to add that functionality in now, but will add it to the "to-do" list.
In places where there are no 100% vegetarian options, adding these veg-friendly places makes sense. The point you make about encouraging non-veg places to be more veg makes sense, but maybe not something for this site.
Adding many of these places (with 1 or a few veg options):
1) dilutes the page and makes it difficult for a visitor to choose to support the places that are already 100% vegetarian, thus hurting the business of these 100% veg places.
2) creates extra work for us
However, in places where eating veg is difficult it does make sense and we have been listing you submissions. Yet, just because a place has one veg dish, a good veggie burger (grilled on the same grill as all their meat dishes), isn't reason enough for us to list it. For that there is citysearch & yelp. If we start listing every Thai, Chinese, Indian place that offers tofu, why not also list TGIF, Sizzler, Baja Fresh, Taco Bell, etc.?? That's not where we want to go, at least now with our limited resources.
If you haven't already done so, I suggest you join up with a group like: http://www.happycow.net/groups/lets_offer_vegetarian_eating/ which is about encouraging non-veg places to offer more veg options.
On your point about the rating system, I think it's just a point where we disagree. The primary reason I started this site is in support of the restaurants that are 100% vegetarian. There have only been a couple 100% veg places which I've been to in 20 years that didn't deserve credit for being veg.. These rare examples have been so terrible, only for profit, or barely passing as edible. In these cases, I'd agree that they should have the lowest rating possible. However, the thing is, there are tons of reviews that enjoy giving low scores. Again, HappyCow is in Support of 100% vegetarian restaurants and we want to help these businesses over places that only have a few veg options.
The Veggie Cook -
On the topic of usernames, I've edited the register page to say, "Username: (your name works fine)" under which it states: "Publicly displayed: Do NOT use email address as Username."
How does this sound to you guys?
I wasn't suggesting that we make it mandatory to use real names, just thought it might cause folks to be more honest (& considerate) in their reviews.
True about the positive reviews, this is another subject all together, which in my opinion is difficult to control. We do check for duplicate IPs on these and remove them when it's clearly self-promotion.
Reviews do remain indefinitely if the users account is still valid (not deleted). We have been slowly deleting "Guest" reviews that are older than 1 year, but do this every so often, not automatically.
Interesting idea on showing the top 10 pick with the review, will consider this.
You can already sort the listings page by highest review totals, not yet, most reviewed, but that should be easy to add in. Thanks for the ideas.
Why are you bringing (renewing) your personal dispute with kindlizard into this topic of "Review" moderation, not "Forum" moderation? Although, sorry kindlizard, that review does seem like a personal attack on the owners of that place, is overly negative, and thus crosses HappyCow terms. Please read them if you haven't already.
On your other point, thanks for pointing reviews like this out. This one in particular is a bit tricky because the reviewer did not really cross our terms and the review wasn't overly negative. However, the line, "Favor Chinese Customers" was a bit over and for now, I've just removed that. I haven't found a super automated method of handling this. Member accounts like this one, along with their one negative review could be deleted after a given time, say 6 months. Now how to go about find all of them? I could possible create a script which selects members with only one review of a score of 2 or 1 who haven't logged in over 6 months.
Thanks again for all your comments. Let's keep this topic open.
one other idea if its not already available:
To somehow download a town or route from here w all the veg cafes to a GPS deal. that'd be killer if it is not already available.
we found many places were not listed in the GPS and are never listed under Veggie in the GPS. just another thought, though I know little about that stuff
We also can manually sell GPS versions of the site, but don't have that automated yet. Additional, if you have an iPhone, a new app will soon be released which will give you easy access to the guide.
Here is an example of one of mine - I just "cleaned it up" to make it more obvious that it was "only commentary" - http://www.happycow.net/reviews.php?id=13849
Over the next few days I will revisit some others which I have posted & if I see that they could be misleading I will edit them.
+ "It is unclear among the rules I just reviewed for usage if actually eating at the establishment is a rule or not for a review. Johnnysensible has been reviewing several places w/o eating there, which is just obnoxious. Pasting reviews from local reviewers and such. " +
Please would whoever sent this message to "Eric the Webmaster" have the decency to point out to me any places where I have posted anything which he / she considers to be "obnoxious" so that I can take another look at them / perhaps edit them.
To my thinking the posting of any positive info on HappyCow about veg*n businesses is not 1% "obnoxious" - I really wonder what other "agenda" this individual has.
Veg*n businesses deserve to be promoted in every way possible.
I have visited 200+ veg*n businesses in the past 36 months.
I have a file of business cards / flyers for them - I phone to check that they are still open / submit them to HappyCow / add Reviews as & when I have time available.
In the past few weeks I have been focusing on listing favorite "missing" places in London, UK.
2. More on the question of anonymity -
Eric I do not have a personal dispute with kindlizard - I simply use him as an example to point out the "downside" of running with anonymity.
kindlizard anonymously attacks people all too often in this Forum & then squeals when he receives responses.
His repeated vitriolic abuse of Dr. John McDougall is a case in point - see a example from this thread - http://www.happycow.net/forum/vegetarian/view_topic.php?id=139
+ kindlizard [PM]- 03/27/2008 00:41:12
There are plenty of truths out there about MSG. Don't look at McDougall's site about it; he uses it in his prepackaged crappy soups. Of course he isn't about to denounce his own product. The guy is not a legit Dr anyway, just a corporate schill. +
Seeing Dr. John McDougall abused in the HappyCow Forum makes my blood boil.
Few other living individuals are doing as much to promote plant based diets as Dr. John McDougall is - the man is remarkable.
kindlizard attempts to regain some credibility when he posts in threads such as this current one - sorry - it is not working kindlizard - you have shown your twisted side on too many previous occasions.
I agree with the webmaster that it is "obnoxious" to paste reviews. I think the feedback on the page has been resolute in this stance. Take it with a grain of MSG from the McDougall soups.
Isn't that what regional notes and such are for? I think thats best place for the suggestions of condekedar about the one menu item and other "notes" about an area. That way if traveling throug ha town, one could click the travel notes part and find condekedar's bar w great vegan burger and johnny/stig/heron/etc's pastes about a place he's never been. I think that's the best way to handle it, and if done so, it will bring more attn to that feature of the site. Just 2 more cents.
Everyone uses / interprets the rating system differently.
I suggest that the "1 to 5 HappyCows Rating" only appears on the Review itself.
I suggest that having the ratings appear on the city pages only encourages abuse.
Ratings may be "fun" - just having them appear alongside each individual Review is sufficient for me.
2. On the topic of "veggie friendly" -
I personally do not have an interest in promoting "veggie friendly" places.
If I am in a city where there are no veggie places usually I self-cater / eat fruit.
The only time that I would submit / promote a "veggie friendly" place on HappyCow is where they have a separate veggie food preparation area - such places are rare.
These are not crucial, but how about ranking your top ten? Or how about being able to give half a cow? There are some places that seem better than 4 cows but not quite 5 perfect cows. Just a thought.
"Half a cow"? - Come on, howabout 5/8-a-cow? We want to keep things simple here. In the past we've almost went the other direction and had only 2 options... thumbs up/down.
About ranking your top 10, I think that's not a bad idea and will add it to the to-do list, thanks.
In terms of multiple ids, which is a little off-topic for this thread, I do not know of anyone with multiple IDs, except for myself, "webmaster" & also "eric", but then I don't write reviews with this account. I belive Johnny has come clean and deleted his other accounts.
good idea webmaster
OK Eric - I agree there is a degree of self-correction - still the site needs regular moderation / seeding to keep it on track.
On pages with very long lists & the difficulty of navigating those pages -
Bangkok / Singapore - I am working on them - it would be great if other members give input also.
NYC - you have my suggestions already -
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Hi Mr. Eric,
Thank you for all of the new London / Epsom listings.
I know that New York is very complex & that area names are not strictly geographical.
No - I was not thinking of breaking it down into tiny areas / villages.
You know that I like easy navigation.
I suggest that that this following division to 3 pages would not be too controversial.
I have based it on this page -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Manhattan_neighborhoods
& my knowledge of Manhattan.
New York City
3 pages for all "100XX" zipcodes - Manhattan
1. Lower Manhattan (or downtown Manhattan) - everywhere South of 14th St - see here for more info - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lower_Manhattan
2. Midtown Manhattan - all areas between 14th Street and 59th Street, from the Hudson River to the East River - see here for more info -
3. Upper Manhattan - anywhere between 59th Street and 155th Street. - plus Northern Manhattan - Washington Heights up to Inwood etc. - see here for more info -
Note - for The Bronx - "104XX" zipcodes - including Marble Hill - go here - http://www.happycow.net/north_america/usa/new_york/bronx/index.html
Maybe ask a few people & see what they say?
Maybe post this in the "Forum" for feedback?
- I think a picture tells 1000 words and now that people can upload photos with their review that about does it.
- Negative reviews are valid, but they can hurt a restaurant when they just had a bad day, or its done falsely. I like how trip advisor lets the owners respond (HC already does this) When I see a bad review on TA and the hotel staff replies back it totally negates the bad review. Maybe you can auto send an email to a restaurant that gets less than 3 happycows and encourage them to respond?
I sugggest going a stage further & sending a mail out to them each time that they are reviewed - with text inviting them to send updates about their business & text softly offering "Friend" status / other advertising options.
"- Any other relevant points you can think of."
Some questions to Eric -
1. When I submit a new business & include their email address in the sumbission do you send an automatic mail out to them that they are "now being promoted in the HappyCow website"?
2. Do you add them to the mailing list to receive "MooZines" etc.?
Suggestion - many restaurants / businesses pass out flyers / business cards - they could be encouraged to also promote HappyCow on those.
gr8vegan- thanks for the comments. Nice idea on the owner notifications. Unfortunately we only have a handful of owner email addresses, but we could do that for the one's that we do have. Owners who care and are internet literate already do check the site quite often.
johnnysensible - good points, thanks for the ideas. keep them coming!
webmaster, i was spitballin' before, don't really like ranking top ten idea anymore, if i ever did, nor the 5/8 cow so much. both seem too specific. i do still really like the idea of top ten choice being shown in the review though.
Thanks all the time you spend developing the site, you do a great job.
"Free speech" - yes indeedy - so work on developing the ability to discriminate between what is actually "free speech" & what is "toxic speech" - the effect of which is detrimental to promoting veg*n restaurants / businesses / individuals.
If you find yourself too busy to do this / unable to do this then delegate - delegate - delegate.
To be clear, I do not share Kindlizard's views towards Dr. McDougall, and so far have seen no proof that what he says about MSG in the soups being true.
Once again you have taken a thread off-topic, and unlike free speech, that is something which may create a need to remove posts or edit them, especially since this forum does not allow one to move a post into a new topic.
You may start a new topic to discuss these points, but please do not continue here as they will be removed.
From what I gather, kindlizard does not want to have anything to do with you and only starts up once you provoke him. Consider being the better man and just stop it, ok.
The question of anonymity & the challenges caused by allowing it are very much "on topic" - you raised it yourself in the original post.
Freedom of Speech exercised from a standpoint of anonymity is highly problematical.
I have diligently worked to reduce the number of abusive Reviews on HappyCow.
This is a good article on the subject - http://www.spiked-online.com/Printable/0000000054A7.htm
+ Those living under an oppressive regime may have good reason to seek this level of online privacy. But for net users to behave this way in democratic societies is surely to exhibit an unnecessary degree of paranoia.
Where free speech is accepted, people should be able to speak out without the need for anonymity, and they should be able to be publicly associated with their words without the fear of punishment. In regimes that do not accept the principle of free speech, where the expression of dissent has harmful consequences, online anonymity is a vital tool. The anonymity question also depends on the issues at stake: for example, whistle-blowers who would face certain dismissal from their jobs if they were caught rely on online anonymity to reveal the truth about corporate or institutional malpractice.
But in practice, the exercise of online anonymity today makes little discrimination between the right to express political dissent and make legitimate criticisms, and the facility to take a cheap shot that has little basis in truth, without having to face the consequences. +
Eric - I suggest that you waste a little less time defending blatant abusers & spend a little more time moderating this Forum effectively.
Quasi Vegetarian09/09/2008 21:50:27
The update could be positive or negative it matters not. Just as long as it has been updated. If no one is interested in updating the review then it is seems obvious that on one it interested in the place anyway and maybe it ought to go away.
It seems to me that places like this are changing ownership and management and even employees like cooks and servers and the like as to make an updated review mandatory to keep the credibility of the reviews. So to my way of thinking if no one cares to update the review at least annually then the review should be deleted.
Just a thought
Annual Updates - this would certainly be ideal.
The challenge is in the current numbers.
Updated on: 09/10/2008
Total Listings: 8,928
Total Reviews: 16,217
Total Members: 8,802
We need to work out how to at least quadruple the number of Reviews which are being written.
Today the average of "Reviews per Member" is right at 1 - several thousand Members do not write Reviews.
Today the average of "Reviews per Listing" is below 2 - several thousand businesses do not even have their 1st Review yet.
Reviews are certainly the life blood of HappyCow.net
I helped to compose some of the auto-responders emails which go out when new Members join etc.
We seriously need to compose emails to send out thanking Members for Reviews as they write them & other mails seeking more Reviews.
Then emails asking for updates.
Perhaps we also need to consider ways of incentivising Review writing also.
I enjoy spending time on positive projects such as these.
The big challenges are how to write them & how to schedule sending them out in ways which avoid causing "email receipt fatigue" in too high a proportion of Members.
Also a kind of commentary idea might be good although could be unwieldy. I'm just wondering where to put a review of somewhere which I have been really tardy in putting up in time. I went there a while ago but didn't post a review promptly..
In answer to your question, as long as you actually ate at a place, even it was a while ago it's fine to leave a review. Do so in the normal way, but you might mention the approximate date when you were there.
Also another Q: There is a restaurant I went to but I only had dessert there! I wouldn't think of writing a review normally but they were so wonderful, I want to give them a shout out. Should I do it in country notes or smthng or just write a "limited" review?
Peace ...03/28/2010 17:20:32
A visit at the eatery is a MUST. If the reviewer has not consume any food from the eatery, the food portion review need not be in the review, but be present to observe or note other things like what type of veg cuisine, food option, the hygiene of the place, the decor/vibe/ambience of the eatery, the services, etc can be reviewed.
Should members who write reviews be asked to display their true identity (full name)?
Not necessary and optional. It is not required at all in other food reviews site too. Apparently, my food reviews also post in other food reviewer sites (non-veg environment for semi-vegetarian and non-veg to understand more about vegetarian food if they are interested.) and my blog too.
Afterall, I am not a professional food critics or foodies or food reviewers, I do not think I need to display my full name. Either do I want to get "famous" among those eateries. Should there be any need, the member's account has sufficient info to be traced.
Peace- thanks for sharing and for all your excellent photos and reviews!