TripAdvisor has destroyed the world with hyperbole

While this opinion has long been stewing about everything from WordPress plugin reviews to Amazon and Ebay seller reviews where anything less than a 5 stars is seen as failure, this is what really triggered it.

The Best Mexican Food in Seminyak

Once upon a time we would leaf through Lonely Planet where we travelers would read fairly unbiased and neutral reviews of places on tourist trail. Granted, that missed a lot of things both due to the time to print, as well as the practical limits of page count, but at least back then what you read had some credibility.

Then the internet happened

People discovered online that they could publish their own reviews of all the places they’ve been and share their experience with other people, how wonderful! Only, after a very short time the peoples of the internet also learned that everywhere from the comments section on yahoo news post to review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and more that there were a lot of other people expressing their opinions of things as well. Somehow they all decided that the best way to get heard over the noise was to be as extreme as possible in their speaking.

So if I were to review TripAdvisor like one of its reviewers would, I’d say “TripAdvisor is the absolute worst website on the internet for travelers. Everyone that writes review on it either has no idea what they’re talking about or is just incapable of providing an honest useful review. Avoid it like the plague really you could die from just reading it!”

A fair and thorough review of the “Best Mexican [food] in Seminyak”

For two people who love mexican food the food at Chara, the subject of the above review, is good. However, I can not conceive of universe in which this restaurant and it’s food could be considered 5 stars “excellent” in anyone’s book. Frankly, 4 stars “Very Good” would be a stretch for both the restaurant as well as the food it serves, but at least then I could sit with “well they enjoyed it more than me” instead of “what can they possible be thinking?”

Maybe, in a bubble of space that ignores the world outside Seminyak and outside Bali, but reviews on site like this should not ignore the outside world.  The star/circle/point ratings aren’t “relative to what’s available next door”, they’re based on your sum total of experience or shouldn’t they be?

Signs Eat Well, Travel Often

A very cute set of signs at Chara that certainly resonates with us

Having visited every Mexican food restaurant in and around Seminyak, including Chara multiple times. I’d say that Lacalaca is actually “the best Mexican [food] in Seminyak”. That’s doesn’t really say much considering the size of and location of Seminyak, but none the less I’m really fine with either earning the title of “Best Mexican in Seminyak”. Neither Chara nor Lacalaca however warrants 5 stars “Excellent, OMG one of the best meals I’ve had”. That’s not an insult, that’s reality for anyone that’s ever had a delicious meal at least once in their lives.

Lacalaca has some delicious fish tacos with flavors that suggest some care went into balancing them. In my book I could and did stretch things give Lacalaca 4 stars, even though there were at least a couple of meals we had there that were only average.  Chara however was never better than 100’s of other mexican restaurants I’ve happily eaten at and forgotten.

Crowdsourcing data needs to be smarter

Crowdsourcing reviews doesn’t serve the readership when the highest rating is essentially the default from which to lose stars/points only for gross deficiencies. Systems need to exist to moderate reviewers all or nothing mentality unless your only giving them an all or nothing choice.

TripAdvisor, and the most popular of review sites like it I think are beyond hope. Nothing short of resetting everything and changing their scoring systems would really help.

The one exception I’ve found in this sea of useless untrustworthy reviews is Foursquare. On Foursquare you simple say Good, Neutral, Bad. Then, as I understand it, 4sq actually does some artificial intelligence processing of your comments pulling out key words including positive or negative speech to formulate its 0-10 rating as well as it’s tags and filtering. This, I think, is why I find there ratings and filtering so much better than TripAdvisor’s. Plus it’s a smaller pool of reviewers that seem more savvy and to care more.

How about you?


  1. You have to review the reviewers. Most of them aren’t qualified to string together words into complete sentences, let alone share an opinion that is reasonable and useful.

    That’s the tricky part. Because anyone can review anything, the reader has to filter every review through a lens that can ignore the dross.

    • Very true, but that’s again where Foursquare pulls ahead, fewer reviewers to review. When one looks at TripAdvisor and see 575 reviews of a place and it’s 4.5 stars, that really just means it popular, not that it’s good… and no one is going to wade through 500 reviews reviewing all, or even most, of the reviewers.

      I’ve got a post drafted that talk about this a little more in regards to finding cafes to work from, this was just easier to get out the door.

  2. I think, when traveling, star ratings often ARE relative to what’s next door. If you get quite decent Mexican food in another country, place is fun, service is good, salsa is hot, beer is cold, that’s a five star place. If the place really rocks (i.e. great Mexican food without the qualifier), then I go above and beyond in my review. A five star review essentially says “this place does it right, worth a visit.”

    I just took a look, 55% of my reviews on TripAdvisor are five stars. Not sure if that’s high or not…

    So much to unpack from your post, Jon – look forward to hanging out and waxing philosophical on this one…

    • Ha, as I wrote this I was recalling you seeing my frequent 3/4 star Amazon reviews for things I liked, but didn’t love.

      Obviously from the above, I disagree about the “relative to the place next door” measuring stick. The problem is if I’m looking on Trip Advisor for an amazing dinner and looking for something amazing near by, do I go to the 5 star restaurant with passable Mexican restaurant or the 5 star Japanese restaurant that actually has amazing Japanese food? Sure I could read the text of a dozen review to tease out more info, but I’d still argue the rating system and the way it’s used it just simple broken because star ratings are supposed to mean something “at a glance” which is doesn’t.

      Look forward to chatting about it more later!

  3. “Then the internet happened…”

    SO MANY THINGS can be explained because of this….

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