My trusty Google Alerts directed me recently to Toward a web 3.0?, a compelling blog post that speculates on the web's evolution and names Bazaarvoice in doing so. The author classifies Bazaarvoice, along with complementary solutions like RapLeaf and iKarma, as a universal reputation system that enables consumers to evaluate products prior to purchase. While our marketing efforts might present us somewhat differently, I personally like the "reputation system" description for a couple of reasons.
First, it's novel to think of products as having reputations, considering that we typically reserve that privelege for individuals (you, your friends, eBay buyers & sellers) and brands, not necessarily the objects of consumption. "Reputation" sounds richer and more meaningful than "rating" although a product's average customer rating is certainly a component of its reputation, along with reviews of the product and the volume of customer word of mouth surrounding the product, in absolute terms and relative to the product's peers.
Second, reputation is also a function of WHO's talking. In the course of collecting ratings and reviews for tens of thousands of products, we are also gaining deep insight into the "opinion value" of individual reviewers. For example, our solution allows end users to flag reviews as being helpful, not helpful, and/or inappropriate. These aggregate statistics help us pinpoint influential reviewers as well as abusers of the reviews function. In addition, we assist our clients in selecting featured reviews based on review quality attributes, such as length, level of detail, and language quality, and our clients can assign Expert Reviewer badges to their most outstanding contributors.
In the offline world, you'd trust a product recommendation from a close, respected friend before you'd follow the suggestion of a stranger. These same dynamics apply to the online world as well, and online communities and word of mouth networks are driving their evolution. I believe that consumer trust in online peers and word of mouth sources will very soon exceed trust in known, offline peers and sources, if it hasn't already (eBay has certainly proven this to be true within their trading community, but there is not yet a dominant eBay-like reputation system for individual consumers in widespread use, although RapLeaf and others are trying to change this).
In summary, a product's reputation is a function not only of its quality, performance, and buzz factor but also its consumer relationships. When smart and informed consumers speak well of your products, their opinions should count more than the impressions of less informed consumers with no good or long-standing reputation of their own. To those companies that want to take the short route to building a positive "reputation" for their products by hiring professional bloggers and PR firms, you are forewarned! Even Web 1.0 consumers are smarter than that! In Web 3.0, expect even greater levels of transparency and more sophisticated systems for measuring the reputation of products, services, brands and the people who talk about them.