All posts by stud376427

The Case of Botto Bistro: Gaming Yelps’ Review System

The people reading this blog obviously have heard of Yelp, as we have published an article on Yelp earlier in 2014. If you are to lazy to re-read, basically Yelp is a site that aggregates reviews from customers for businesses in several industries. On paper, yelps business model lies in providing a digital ‘word of mouth’ effect, and earns money by offering businesses to sell acces their accounts to them (i.e., ‘local ads‘). If you search on google with the search “yelp trust“, you’ll immediately find a lot of articles that the current review system is botched. One could say that lies in the dependency of businesses to receive excellent (5 star) reviews in order to keep their business functioning, and other conspiracy theorists claim that Yelp is offering ‘selective filtering’ to keep a clients’ (i.e., a business paying Yelp ) rating up. The latter even resulted the famous court case in 2014, that was won by yelp, setting a precedent on allowing Yelp to manipulate ratings on their site. Ratings manipulation in any case basically nullify the trust and worthiness of the site one would say.

So how would a business deal with being listed on such a service that Yelp offers? Here comes the case of Botto Bistro. Botto Bistro claims that this is their way of dealing with Yelps’ “blackmailing” and review reputation. In a normal case, a business would try to put incentives up in order for users to leave positive reviews. This way of dealing is considered to be the the ‘route to rome’ that is the oldest in order to create an artificial positive word of mouth buzz around your business. Yelp has dealed with such attempts by putting a “consumer alert” on a profile that says that businesses were caught ‘red handed’ by trying to buy reviews from customers . The latter is also perceived by as an ‘honest’ attempt that builds trust in the service.

Take the gun leave the cannoli.

Based in Richmond, California USA, Botto Bistro is doing the exact opposite. They offer a discount for customers that are willing to put a negative review on Yelp on their business listing. They claim that they are willing to pay for negative reviews, which is so ridiculous that it might be working. They have received a letter from Yelp claiming that they “may be offering incentives in exchange for reviews”, which is a clear violation of their Terms of Service. The funny thing is, that the restaurant listed on Yelp is not even a formal client of Yelp. Furthermore, Yelp’s representative in the email listed on claims that “such practices do more harm than good”. Yet the opposite seems to be proven by Botto, even though 2.314 reviews have been removed as of 1 may 2015. There are many listings and news articles surrounding the business that support the likes of david winning against goliath, as the business seems to be flourishing as a direct result of said news.

In the end, one would wonder what this would do to the trustworthiness of a community like Yelp. Full positive ratings are being perceived as suspicious, now full-on negative reviews will be perceived as suspicious as well? What is next? Perhaps, as one user suggest on Reddit: “only read 3-star reviews”…

Cities: Skylines’ early success in community involvement

A decade ago, the city simulation genre was fully blooming with the PC game-series ‘Sim City’ taking a large majority of the market. The most recent edition of Sim City, released in 2013, was received with a large disappointment with even the most critic person stating that the game is not as sustainable and fun as its previous editions.

Fortunately for city simulation lovers, they were in luck with this years’ Cities: Skylines release. The game was developed by a significantly smaller team and distributed digitally only resulting in a lower price point in the market. On top of that, the biggest change Cities: Skylines made in contrast with its competitor was its refreshing take on communities.

The previous versions of the well-known Sim City series are still played today thanks to their unofficial modding communities. In short, modding extents the lifetime of a game by an unspecified period of time with developers adding functionality to an official release. In most cases, the Sim City series were not easily moddable out of the box, hence the unofficial nature of the communities. With the most recent release of Sim City, there was a big loss of functionality (including the infamous reduction of playable mapsize) and an outcry of the relatively new community to add official modding support in order to enable them to ‘fix’ the game to a playable state. The communities’ for change was never answered, and despite the outstanding graphical display of city simulation the studio of the Sim City developer ended being shut down in 2015.

Colossal Order addressed the desire for a playable game handsomely, with their game being launched with ‘built-in community support’. The market gap was answered by providing modding tools in the first version of the game, and steam workshop support out of the box (providing a platform to effortlessly share and download in-game content and see community user-provided ratings [Hong & Chen, 2013]. The contrast with the relative community failure of Sim City with the currently flourishing Cities: Skylines is stark.

The largest part of the community provides their content for free, and a very interesting development can be found in the case of Brian Shannon. He provides content to all of the community for free, and at the same time accepts ‘donations’ via a service very similar to broadly known crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, and accepts a committed donation per user per built add-on. With the current commitments in place, he effectively made an income out of nothing by providing add-ons for free. The kicker? He used to be part of the developer-team behind the failed Sim City 2013, and got laid off in 2014 during a restructuring.

Although the game is relatively new, it’s bet on community-provided content via already existing distributing platforms (steam, workshop) seems to have provided an early success [Hong & Chen, 2013]. The interesting part to see where future innovations lie: will new forms of communities flourish, now others start to notice that someone in the existing community is making an honest income by providing new content for free? Perhaps we can coin a new term: crowddonating? Only the future will tell us.

A rational perspective on the privacy issues when considering using location-based services

Big data and data collection are often seen in a negative daylight, as public attention to big data gathering usually results in unwanted attention for organizations. The other side of the story is that such data collection is usually the result of organizations wanting to deliver personalized services more effectively. In cases where the user becomes skeptical when asked to share their personal and private data, organizations provide an (additional) incentive to mitigate their perceived risk. In the case of recent developments in mobile shopping services, there is a balance between the perceived value and the perceived risk of sharing private information of the customer Xu et al. noted [1]. An easy example of this the case of a customer of having an empty stomach, an empty fridge at 10pm and a connected smartphone. Will he decide to give out his location-based information to a mobile service in order to look for food ordering opportunities or will he not? Will he value the potential to find food less than his location-based information at that hour? You decide.

Furthermore, Xu et al. found that the usage of location-based services is correlated to monetary incentives. Individuals are more willing to disclose their locality to location-based services when offered a financial incentive, Xu et al. have found in their research [1]. The financial incentive is often given in the form of some future saving, implying that there is money to be gained in future expenses. These incentives often take the form in discounts on related services or rebates. Some skeptics have been in agreement with having their personalized data shared in trade for an additional incentive. When asked about their rationalization, some skeptics claim that ‘the risk is worth the gain’ while others state that they have ‘serious concerns’ about sharing their information. If you think that the former is non-existent, please consider the example of the guy with the empty stomach again.

The location-based are services that require more personal and private information in order to function better. The so-called personalization privacy paradox is the epitome of the previous statement; the better services an individual wants or requires, the more willing he has to be to share his personal information. Xu et al. have found that using personalized services could help individuals in superseding their privacy concerns. When addressing the paradox, the authors imply that if customers are more knowledgeable of the service that they require, they make a more rational decision. If the customers have high privacy concerns towards the use of personalized services, they are less inclined to consider using the service and will automatically consider alternate opportunities (in case of the hungry customer, he could use the ‘service’ of asking his physical neighbor for information) and therefore are not part the targeted demographic Pappas et al. imply [2]. In addition, if the location-based services give the option to the consumer to control the use of their personalized information, the mitigated effect might tempt critics to use the service after all [3], although future research would have to investigate this in more detail.

In the end, the rule of thumb is: “when (information) services are offered for free, you are paying with your personal data”. Some people are okay with this, and that is… okay.

Disclaimer: Although largely based on the article of Xu et al. [1], the opinion presented in this article does not portray the sentiment in the paper itself. The opinion presented in this article rests solely by the author and by none of the authors cited in this article. Critics are free to comment below, and are encouraged to do so.

[1] Xu, H., Luo, X. R., Carroll, J. M., & Rosson, M. B. (2011). The personalization privacy paradox: An exploratory study of decision making process for location-aware marketing. Decision Support Systems, 51(1), 42-52.
[2] Pappas, I. O., Giannakos, M. N., & Chrissikopoulos, V. (2012, June). Personalized services in online shopping: Enjoyment and privacy. In Information Society (i-Society), 2012 International Conference on (pp. 168-173). IEEE.
[3] Schwaig, K. S., Segars, A. H., Grover, V., & Fiedler, K. D. (2013). A model of consumers’ perceptions of the invasion of information privacy. Information & Management, 50(1), 1-12.