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November 20, 2019

"Awsum Shoes!" — Is it ethical to fix grammatical and spelling errors in internet reviews?


The headline above accompanied Michael Agger's May 10, 2011 Slate article, which I found highly topical and of great interest not so much because of its focus on reviews but, rather, because I have the same question regarding comments on boj.

Sometimes a comments contains errors in syntax, spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like.

What to do?

Hey, don't get me wrong: I'm happy anytime someone takes the time to comment, regardless of mistakes.

But I digress.

I could go into my TypePad boiler room and correct the comment.

I could wait for a follow-up comment correcting the original error.

But then what should I do with the first comment?

Remove it?

Leave it?

Correct it myself?

It's sort of like a spiraling hall of mirrors in which each thing you do — or don't do — raises more questions, in an endless regression.

Sometimes I really like the error as it stands and so I leave it, especially those that remind me of "All your base are belong to us."

When someone asks me to remove a comment for whatever reason, I'm happy to oblige.

Likewise if your email address or URL inadvertently appears and you don't want it publicly available: no problema, I'll take it off pronto.

One of my favorite things, as long as we're on the subject, is when a reader comments for the first time while noting they've been reading boj for years.


Below, excerpts from Agger's Slate piece.

Zappos.com now uses crowdsourcing to fix the grammar and spelling in the site's reviews.

The specific tool Zappos uses is Amazon's Mechanical Turk, where anyone can assign HITs — human intelligence tasks — to people who want to make a buck while sitting at their computers.

In order to Taylorize the task, Zappos broke copy-editing into discrete steps, using a crowdsourced method of word processing (PDF) that's based on bug-fixing routines in computer programming.

Zappos spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing more than a million reviews.

We can assume that this cash outlay translated into extra cash for the Internet's most popular destination for quality footwear.

While the profit motive is clear, the ethics here are murkier.

Is it appropriate for Zappos to fix its users' grammar?

If someone can't spell the word awsum, we may be inclined to devalue his opinion of trail running shoes.

When we read a review on Amazon, we have to administer our own version of the Turing test — was this really written by an innocent, human consumer like me?

With the amount of money at stake, and the amount of PR energy brought to bear, it will become increasingly difficult to sort the genuine from the fake.

One can imagine a future (perhaps it's already arrived) when companies deliberately insert bad grammar or regional slang to give reviews the appearance of authenticity — sort of like the distressed khakis of reviews.

For now, the trend seems to be going in the opposite direction.

By cleaning up its reviews, Zappos is hurting shoppers as it helps its bottom line.

The lowercase reviews, the all-caps reviews, the Internet speak, the subject-verb-agreement manglings, the sentence fragments, the pathetic attempts to spell chic — all of these are factors to weigh when considering someone's opinion of low-top Chuck Taylors.

Or, to be more earnest about it, our mistakes are what make us human.

On the Internet, it's important that other people can tell if you're an idiot.

November 20, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


More or less to xoxoxoBruce's point, shoes will never be awesome, but they may be "awsum".

Posted by: Luke | Nov 21, 2019 2:26:38 PM

I’m an English teacher and honestly, I don’t understand why spelling is still a thing. Seems like an inordinate amount of time is wasted learning the stuff. Why don’t/won’t we just simplify our language?

Posted by: tamra | Nov 21, 2019 1:14:48 PM


You made an excellent point when you wrote, "One of the ways comments by other readers are evaluated is syntax, spelling, and grammar. Too, to, and two, or there, their, and they're tell a story."

I'd never considered that aspect of comments before, but you have convinced me to leave them as they stand from now on: no more cleaning up by my Crack Grammar Team®©.

Posted by: bookofjoe | Nov 20, 2019 6:50:46 PM

Comments aren't just for you, they give other readers exposure to varied ideas and insights. One of the ways comments by other readers are evaluated is syntax, spelling, and grammar. Too, to, and two, or there, their, and they're tell a story.

Posted by: xoxoxoBruce | Nov 20, 2019 5:15:42 PM

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