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Anonymity, Social Image, and the Competition for Volunteers: A Case Study of the Online Market for Reviews


  • Wang Zhongmin

    () (Northeastern University)


This paper takes a first step toward understanding the working of the online market for reviews. Most online review firms rely on unpaid volunteers to write reviews. Can a for-profit online review firm attract productive volunteer reviewers, limit the number of ranting or raving reviewers, and marginalize fake reviewers? This paper sheds light on this issue by studying reviewer productivity and restaurant ratings at Yelp, where reviewers are encouraged to establish a social image, and two competing websites, where reviewers are completely anonymous. Using a dataset of nearly half a million reviewer accounts, we find that the number (proportion) of prolific reviewers on Yelp is an order of magnitude larger than that on either competing site, more productive reviewers on all three websites are less likely to give an extreme rating, and restaurant ratings on Yelp tend to be much less extreme than those on either competing site.

Suggested Citation

  • Wang Zhongmin, 2010. "Anonymity, Social Image, and the Competition for Volunteers: A Case Study of the Online Market for Reviews," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(1), pages 1-35, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:bejeap:v:10:y:2010:i:1:n:44

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James Andreoni & B. Douglas Bernheim, 2009. "Social Image and the 50-50 Norm: A Theoretical and Experimental Analysis of Audience Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(5), pages 1607-1636, September.
    2. Lafky, Jonathan, 2014. "Why do people rate? Theory and evidence on online ratings," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 554-570.
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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas J. Miles, 2015. "Do Attorney Surveys Measure Judicial Performance or Respondent Ideology? Evidence from Online Evaluations," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(S1), pages 231-267.
    2. Luís Cabral & Lingfang (Ivy) Li, 2015. "A Dollar for Your Thoughts: Feedback-Conditional Rebates on eBay," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 61(9), pages 2052-2063, September.
    3. Ni Huang & Yili Hong & Gordon Burtch, 2015. "Digital Social Visibility, Anonymity and User Content Generation: Evidence from Natural Experiments," Working Papers 15-04, NET Institute.
    4. Michael Luca, 2011. "Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of," Harvard Business School Working Papers 12-016, Harvard Business School, revised Mar 2016.
    5. Lafky, Jonathan, 2014. "Why do people rate? Theory and evidence on online ratings," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 554-570.
    6. repec:pit:wpaper:539 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Kenju Kamei & Louis Putterman, 2015. "Reputation Transmission without Benefit to the Reporter: a Behavioral Underpinning of Markets in Experimental Focus," Working Papers 2015-9, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    8. repec:pit:wpaper:540 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Jonathan Lafky & Alistair J. Wilson, 2015. "Quality vs. Quantity in Information Transmission: Theory and Experimental Evidence," CESifo Working Paper Series 5426, CESifo Group Munich.

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