February 16, 2012

My dear friend the troll

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The following piece written by my dear friend Susan for the South China Morning Post (original article here) pretty much sums up the problems with OpenRice… and I have stopped contributing some time ago.  And yes, I Love Lubutin is also a dear friend of mine.

Be wise to the not-so-subtle art of trolling

For a while there a few weeks ago, a certain poster on openrice.com was receiving an unusually large amount of feedback for her restaurant reviews. People were actually opening accounts just so they could post responses - often rude, sexist and vituperative - on the reviews by I Love Lubutin (ILL).

She was, arguably, provocative. Writing in grammatically incorrect English that was littered with misspellings and direct translations from Cantonese, she wrote as much about shopping for expensive clothing and shoes, her efforts to stay slim, and her "sweet sweet boyfriend", as she did about food. Each of her 13 reviews contained comments about whether the restaurant provided a stool for her designer handbag.

Some of ILL's best (or worst) comments appeared on a blog (too rudely titled to print here) that gives "a selection of some of the most hilarious Openrice reviews by people who really don't know what they are talking about", although they were removed within a few days.

Foodies were tweeting about ILL, poking fun at her English and declaring her a food ignoramus for her posts that included one expressing surprise that the sweetbreads she reluctantly tasted (because she doesn't eat carbohydrates after 3pm) did not taste like bread at all; they tasted a lot like meat.  

The problem, of course, is that ILL was invented - an exaggerated composite of real posters on Openrice. It was good-natured trolling. The real ILL is a well-travelled, trilingual foodie friend of mine, and she knows her stuff. Those supposedly ignorant comments were meant to be a joke.

A few people beyond ILL's circle of friends began to realise this. Openrice slowly figured out that something was suspicious and finally stopped posting her reviews. And then last week, they erased history by removing the existing ones. If ILL's incessant criticisms about the non-availability of handbag stools didn't raise a red flag, her assertion that she wasn't a Hong Kong girl because she lived in Arkansas for two years should have.

But if you ignored ILL's language and overuse of emoticons, you could see that her restaurant assessments were accurate, according to her experience of the meal in question. In the parts where it really matters - quality of food and service - ILL's reviews were as valid as those by other posters.

Unlike some, ILL's were definitely not "shills" (positive reviews by someone involved in a restaurant, trying to make their place sound better than it is).

In open review forums such as these, we need to take posts with a grain of salt. Some people might have hidden agendas - being overly critical because they have a grudge against a venue, or a restaurant owner praising his own place to raise its rating. Be wary of newbie posters, but after they've established their food cred, see if your assessment of a place matches up with theirs. If it does, you have similar tastes. But even then, keep an open mind.

All reviews, including mine, are not meant to be taken as gospel truth; they're subjective opinions of one meal, on one day. Your experience may differ.


kelly said...

Hi There,

I enjoy reading your posts because you seem really knowledgeable about food and wine. I ate at alot of the same restaurants as you did and it was nice to read about another person's opinion. Pity, I don't really drink so I cannot appreciate that aspect of your reviews.

As for online reviews, I generally take them with a grain of salt. Some people tend to exaggerate how good something is. So I tend to order a couple of recommended dishs and dishes that jump out at me.

I enjoy reading your blog, hope you don't stop.



Unknown said...

I don't think Openrice the website itself is a bad concept, but their administrators need to know when to delete or cut off certain reviews.

I've had enough reviews deleted by them to start my own blog - even though I was only trying to share info : P Never really considered myself a blogger. I still have posts from 3 years ago that I need to post lol

As for exaggeration, I can't agree more. Some people develop such an affection for their favourite restaurants they can no longer distinguish between good food or being emotional. Whereas for me I suffer a similar problem - I try not to be too rude and overly critical and be subtle about the hints on where they can improve. But the egotistical chefs/hosts/managers/PR can't seem to get the message about half of the time. As if I really care. 3rd strike and they are out.

Peech said...

Dear Kelly, thank you for your kind words.

HKE, as u know I stopped posting on OR since they implemented their stupid policy last year. They can go and shove it.

I Love Lubutin said...

HK restaurants improved because of my comments! Lots of places offer stools for bags now


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