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MenuGate: The Dark Truth About User Reviews

MenuGate, Eater's ongoing investigation into the doings of the myriad online menu sites serving New York City, isn't just here to play gotcha with outdated menus. Today, we turn to user reviews, which, as it turns out, may not be as pure a reflection of the people's opinion as one might have thought.

2006_09_menugate.jpgThis begins, as you might expect, with a reader email:

Saw your post about menupages and had to chime in. Not only are their prices often wrong, but they've also become very strict, or bad, or something, about not posting any negative reviews. Over the past few months, I've submitted three or four negative reviews (and many positive), and none of them made their cut. They were entirely objective, and far from inflammatory/obscene, but for some reason were all removed. Including one on Trestle I posted the first week they were open, which was on the site for a few days and then removed - which I can't figure out.
She continues:
I sent them a note asking why my reviews had been removed, and received this in response:
Thanks for taking the time to contact us. Unfortunately we do not comment on specific reviews submitted by users.

Please understand that while we truly value our users' contributions to the site and encourage their participation, we strictly adhere to our ratings and reviews policy because we believe it contributes to the best user experience. If a particular review did not make it up to the site, chances are it did not fully adhere to our ratings and reviews policy which you can find here - http://www.menupages.com/legalnotice.asp.

Back to our intrepid reader, who draws this conclusion:
I've checked my removed reviews against their 'policy', and there was no conflict. So all I can work out is that menupages has become an editorial site, at least in terms of their reviews, rather than an open forum for both the good and the bad. Or maybe being fooled into believing trestle's service isn't absurdly bad is part of the 'best user experience'."
Now, let's be blunt: policing user reviews is no easy game, especially considering the number of shills who come out to play. But it's probably a task better left to users than to the site owners, who seem likelier to suppress bad reviews than "harmless" false-positives.

But there's a bit of hyprocracy here, too. We've found menu sites to be quite clear about their reliance on users to point out mistakes. Certainly, readers are their best shot of keeping the review section accurate, too. Unless, like at Chowhound, there are more sinister agendas in play.

This is, as you know, an on-going investigation. Care to weigh-in? By all means.

· Menugate: Meet the Players [~E~]
· Banned on Chowhound: Chowhound Explains (Sort Of) [~E~]

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