Why are online comments so negative while online product reviews are so positive?
Anyone reading this knows that comments left at blogs, discussion forums, and online newspaper websites tend to be a lot more negative than what you hear out of people's mouths in real life. The standard answer is that it's because of anonymity -- when people don't have a reputation to protect, they incur lower costs by being evil, so they'll indulge more in their evil side online.
But that cannot be right because anonymous web-surfers who leave comments and ratings on "products" at "retail" websites are overwhelmingly positive, often effusive. (I use quotes because I count YouTube as a retailer of video clips.) There was a WSJ article last year about this. The gist is that reviews of books at Amazon, of sellers at Ebay, of restaurants at foodie sites, etc., are so skewed toward the positive side that the ratings system doesn't seem to work -- the average product gets 4.3 out of 5 stars online. Where are all of the negative comments, whether nasty drive-bys or withering diatribes, that we would have expected from the behavior of anonymous online commenters at blogs, forums, and newspaper sites?
I'll put up the answer tomorrow or the next day. It's not an immediately intuitive answer -- you would have to have read and internalized some key insights from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments or be clever enough to re-discover his views on your own. It is a pretty simple and real answer, though. In the meantime, what possible reasons can you think of to resolve the paradox between negative comments vs. positive reviews? The people interviewed for the WSJ article threw out some ideas, but they don't really work.