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Ryan O’Hare, product manager at JUST EAT, considers the importance and problem of online reviews.

If you knew this article was given a 5 star rating by 100 people you’ve never met, would you be more likely to read on?

If you then knew 80 of those reviewers didn’t actually exist, 19 of them were real people whom I’d just paid to give me 5 stars, and 1 of them was my very own mother, would you still be more likely to read on?

Because the flawed reality of the current model of online ratings and reviews systems was brought into sharp contrast earlier this month by Amazon’s announcement of legal action against 1,114 unknown people (“yes, we don’t even know who to sue, but will sue someone!”) for creating fake reviews on their site.

These mysterious reviewers have apparently been selling their ratings-invention services on an industrial scale, and yet Amazon were at pains to suggest it was only a limited number of users abusing their hallowed system. Haha…That’s unlikely to be the reality at Amazon and across many other web retailers, as everybody knows how important reviews still seem to be to online customers, how few people leave actual reviews anyway, and therefore how susceptible to abuse and manipulation the system is.

Confidence in ratings

We are all guilty of placing false levels of confidence in ratings; after all what other option do we have but to trust the stars? But the potential and easy abuse of this trust is a devastating, and irreparable, threat to online retailers, and deserves to be taken far more seriously than it is currently by businesses and consumers alike.

Consumers will begin to demand more integrity in the information they use to make buying choices, so retailers need to be thinking of more innovative ways of showing information than relying on their old ratings systems. And this is of course where startups can look to solve this problem in more elegant and robust ways.

Over on AngelList, 894 startups are currently classified as innovating in the “Reviews and Recommendations” space. One London-based startup called eRated in particular has got some traction lately building a platform to aggregate different ratings from different platforms into a single score. But this still doesn’t combat the issue that many of those ratings are untrustworthy in the first place.

Another startup, Thread, is taking a different direction by using personalized stylists to recommend clothes, avoiding peer-to-peer recommendations completely. But once they reach scale and become more algorithmic in their recommendations, will consumers still have that trust in the brand?

Whatever the solution to solving the trust problem on the Internet, it still feels like we are a very long way away from a great solution. It will be interesting to see how the space evolves as the clamor from consumers for new systems becomes louder and louder.

Let me know if you’ve seen any good startups trying to solve the online trust problem!

This story originally appeared on Tech City News. Copyright 2015

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