Monday, 16 November 2009
Why Tripadvisor doesn't work (and Wikipedia does)
I used tripadvisor.co.uk for the first time this weekend. The main bulk of its contents are generated by its users just as is the case with Wikipedia.
However, popular though it is I won't be using it for a very good reason. Opinion requires a certain stock of trust whereas fact is just fact. In the case of tripadvisor.co.uk you have no idea who the reviewers are. The law of averages doesn't work when it comes to opinion- the average may be in a very different place to where you are personally as anyone on the far left or right of British politics could testify.
So I put my scepticism to the test with two hotels where I have stayed in the last two years. One was excellent- the Marmara Pera Hotel in Istanbul- to the extent that I'll be staying there again the weekend after next. One was average to below average- the Prime Hotel St John in Rome. I won't be staying there again.
Amazingly, tripadvisor.co.uk gives them both a pretty similar score. The Marmara Pera, despite its spectacular Bosphorous view, roof top bar and the fact it houses one of the best modern restaurants in Istanbul, scores 85%. Prime Hotel St John scores 81% despite the fact that it's an utterly mediocre, over-priced business hotel. It's basically a Travelodge despite its four-star rating.
And that's the difference between tripadvisor and Wikipedia. The latter is based on facts. It is either wrong or right but you can check it. It's right almost all of the time so you are willing to go with it in the main. Opinions can't be checked. On tripadvisor you don't know who the people are, what they are looking for, what they like, how picky they are, or whether there's more motivation to post if you've had an extremely good or extremely bad experience. So there just isn't the foundation to trust in the site. Trust is very important to go with an opinion.
So I was interested to see the NHS going with a 'tripadvisor' style system for ranking health services. Take this example of my local GP. There's only one review so not much to go on. But surely I should be mistrustful given that this is an anonymous opinion?
Strangely though, it works in the case of nhs.uk. Because, despite the hype, it's not actually like tripadvisor at all. Its ratings have a fairly factual basis: whether you can get through on the phone, how flexible the practice is, how you are treated by the GP and the staff, and the information that you receive.
So nhs.uk- which is an excellent web-site- works precisely because it's not like tripadvisor. It's reviews are based on factual assessments. So when I come to use the NHS, I will be using nhs.uk. When I come to book my holiday I won't bother with tripadvisor. Oh, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't use Wikipedia. Of course I do.