Commentary

Dependent Noncontributor

  • by , August 1, 2008

In the Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the News Media annual report, a shift to user-created content is cited as one of news media's growing trends. It's hard to deny this with the popularity and pervasiveness of public and private blogs, comment boxes and consumer reviews.

Apparently we want people to know what we think and perhaps we even want to know what other people think in return. I know that's why I consult consumer reports - I want to know the average Jane's personal experiences with whatever product or service I'm considering purchasing.

Although I'd been skeptical about the trustworthiness of consumer reviews in the past, they proved to be instrumental in my apartment selection - as I attempted to devise why two, nearly identical apartment complexes just down the road from one another had such disparity in pricing. After touring one complex and unsuccessfully attempting to secure a visit to the other, I consulted the web - perhaps the current and former residents could explain this enigma. With citings of drug deals, break-ins and general disappointment with the staff, buildings and neighbors I decided I didn't want to risk it even if these stories did not represent the majority of the residents' experiences at the less expensive complex.

When searching for similar reports on internet service providers, I found myself more frustrated with the (lack of) personalized reviews. With numerous companies offering the most updated equipment and promising the fastest speeds, how do I choose the best option for the right price? Solution: personal accounts about how often the internet disconnects, how long it takes to sign on, and is there a consistent wireless signal. Since these answers vary depending on location, perhaps it would be best to bake some cookies, wrap them in pretty cellophane packages then proceed to knock on my neighbors' doors disguised as the welcoming-committee in order to procure answers to my various questions.

Although meeting your neighbors is always a good idea, isn't that the beauty about the internet - its ability to facilitate far-reaching discourse with ease?

Furthermore, now that I've become fairly reliant on consumer product reviews, shouldn't I feel inclined to contribute my own opinions and experiences to repay those who have guided me with their advise? Generally I've not felt inclined to write reviews because I don't feel I'm qualified. But all I'm asking of others is simply to convey their experiences and that takes no special knowledge or skill set. Besides, if more people wrote reviews we may have a more representative understanding of the quality of certain products and services - in turn holding companies more responsible for their products.

This shift to user-created content illuminates the move to a truly consumer-driven market that ensures we are getting what we want at a price that we find acceptable. There's no silencing us now.

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