The wrong reward(Or, why we're not going to bribe you with Ipods)

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Some people seem to think that Judy’s Book’s Ipod-for-reviews campaign is a great idea.

I’ll confess that we’ve considered similar schemes. And I thought they were a great idea, finding myself in opposition to my partners on this point.

But a quick review of the site and the offer today have me convinced that I was wrong: It’s absolutely the wrong way to go.

Here’s their basic offer:

To get your 512MB iPod® shuffle, just write 50 qualifying Judy’s Book reviews and invite 10 friends to join:

  • Your reviews must be of local businesses – reviews of national chains will not be counted toward your total
  • No
    more than 10 of your reviews can be for restaurants, coffee shops, bars
    or clubs (a list of suggested review topics is provided to help you get
    started)
  • Reviews must be at least 50 words in length

There’s a lot of problems with this. The biggest is that it makes the user’s experience about getting the Ipod, not getting value from the site. You write your best reviews as you have experiences over time — at or near the time they happen. But the schedule here is driven by the bribe.

The 50 words requirement and the different categories might seem to be a good idea, if you’re the owner of the site looking to gin up quick content. But those requirements have little to do with the users’ needs. Lengthier reviews aren’t necessarily better, and I may be a restaurant expert with lots to offer in that area. (Interestingly, the first four reviews I looked at were all 50-53 words– no extra mile here.)

All this adds up to reviews like this one for the DMA:

This is one of the coolest art museums that i have been to
in this world. I just think that it is a great space. not only is it a art
museum but the buidling itself is a marevlous peice of art sitting right off of
the high way. It is a really great place to go. This place has some of the
worlds greatest artist from monet to picasso. I love this place and plan on
taking my son one day when he understands!

Not terribly enlightening. And it’s one among six other reviews that don’t provide any new information to anyone who lives in Dallas.

Don’t get me wrong– the site does a lot of things right, including the effective use of Google Maps. But they’re doing themselves and their users a disservice with a scheme that places the bribe over the experience, whatever short-term publicity it brings. It exacerbates this situation:

…the Internet is getting really crowded these days.  There is so much stuff out there.

And enforced 50-word reviews in service of receipt of an Ipod are not likely to be relevant. Sure, enough of them are a great stat for the VC’s, but will they spur passion about the actual site? Will they create engagement and repeat visits? It’s like buying the magazine subscription for the great premium and then never reading the magazine.

I foresee a Team Judy meeting on the topic of how to remove all the junk reviews from the site.

I’m not saying we won’t reward our loyal readers and contributors. Someday, we might even give some of them Ipods. Or even laptops. Or ice cream cones. But it won’t be in a tit-for-tat scheme. It’ll be a surprise thank-you to strengthen the bond already created by their enjoyment of our product.

We may never get as many review posts in a single day as Judy did today. (BTW: Object lesson in making sure one has enough server power and bandwidth.) But the ones gotten as a natural part of the user experience are more likely to be more relevant. And read. And monetized.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.