A great era of guerrilla detournement is quietly coming to an end. Amazon has begun to require credit card authentication for users posting anonymous or pseudonymous reviews of its items. The Guardian's Andrew Clark says the online book giant is hoping to deter authors from posting anonymous raves of their own books and/or pans of rivals' work:
The problem of authenticating comments on Amazon's website was laid bare in February, when a technical fault caused the company's Canadian site to reveal the identity of dozens of anonymous reviewers. One commentator describing himself as "a reader from St Louis" was exposed as Dave Eggers, author of the acclaimed A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, who heaped praise on the work of his friend, Heidi Julavits, as "one of the best books of the year".
Clark cites some pretty amusing examples of blind hits (including an apt description of the King James Bible as "a rollicking, non-stop, action-adventure which ends with a thrilling conclusion and a hearty 'Amen'"). The weirdest one here is a review by the writer Jane Green, who anonymously writes of her own book Mr Maybe: "I doubted that Jane Green could pull it off once again, but thankfully my fears were unfounded. She manages to convey the dilemmas that so many of us go through at some point in our lives in terms far more honest and real than most other comparable authors."
Why would anybody go to the trouble to fake a review of her own book and then give herself such lukwarm praise?
While it's understandable that Amazon would want to put a stop to the more egregious reviewing practices, I hope this doesn't stop the march of prank reviews entirely. Amazon is one of my favorite content sites, specifically because it allows any wag off the street to poop on the product in creative and anarchic ways. Who wouldn't want to buy Reason contributor Tom Peyser's Utopia and Cosmopolis after reading the hilariously maniacal reviews various none-too-disinterested parties have posted?