May 17, 2009

Observations on the Xstreet SL rating system

Whenever I buy something on Xstreet SL I leave a rating, and sometimes even a review. For me it is normal to give this kind of feedback, since as a shopper I look for it as well. However I seem to be a minority - my own items on Xstreet SL barely get rated and I hear this from others too. Looking a bit closer at the rating system I started to see discrepancies. Items I got sent from Xstreet SL did not appear in my to-be-rated list. Items the store-alt for GREENE concept bought did not appear either. I even filed a ticket with Linden Lab and got some interesting tidbits of information.

In a nutshell, this is what happens:
  1. Your own items send as gift can not be rated. You can send your own items from Xstreet SL to others with the "send as gift" option, however they will not appear among the rateable items for the recipient. This is most likely to prevent "friendship ratings" where you send an item to a friend (or an alt) in order to get a favourable rating.

  2. Items bought from the same system can not be rated. This is a bit more complex and I could not find out with enough tests what Xstreet SL considers to be the same system. But if the GREENE concept store alt buys an item from me - even though the store alt using Google chrome as browser and me using Firefox - the store alt does not have the option to rate it. Whether this is a simple IP address check, and whether this info is stored persistently, needs more testing. And while the reason for this is the same as above, it can be tricky if for example a friend uses your PC to access Xstreet and after that Xstreet assumes forever that you and your friend are identical.
My friend Gumi Yao contributed another interesting observation: if you change an item's price by more than 50%, the ratings get deleted! In Gumi's case it was an introductory offer for some of her flowers, who got a lot of favourable ratings. After the introductory period, she set the price to the initially intended one - and the ratings got lost!

I tested her observation with an item of my own, that received a lot of negative ratings due to a misunderstanding in the description. The item was offered as a freebie and has received 35 ratings. I changed the price to 2L$ and once I reloaded the page, all ratings were cleared. I changed the price back to 0L$ and have a "clean" item again.

What are the implications of these observations?

Certainly there is a great potential for abuse in the Xstreet SL ratings. I witnessed a few times groups of friends openly discussing to make "fake purchases" in order to increase ratings. Since Xstreet SL gets a commission even from those "fake purchases" they have little incentive to stop it. However there are many legit reasons for a merchant to send their items via the "send as gift" option, and I wonder how many are unaware that the recipients can't rate those items. actually with the business I was involved with last year, we considered using Xstreet SL to send out review copies to fashion bloggers.

What I consider problematic is a "black box" that determines whether you come from the same system or not. Especially problematic since there is no way to know how long this gets stored in the Xstreet SL databases.

Using Gumi's documented technique to get rid of unfavourable ratings is legit I think. Many merchants complain about "rating trolls" or fake purchases by competitors for the sole reason of negative ratings. as long as Xstreet SL has no official way of appeal against those ratings, as long as a merchant does not even KNOW who did the ratings, a way to clear the record is important to have.

My own consequence: I will keep monitoring my "cleaned" item after I have clarified the description. If it continues to receive bad ratings I will go back to the drawing board and see how it can be improved.
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