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Google Businesses The Internet Technology

No Press Is Bad Press Even Online 139

Posted by samzenpus
from the if-you-don't-have-anything-nice-to-say dept.
otter42 writes "The NYTimes has an 8-page exposé on how an online business is thriving because of giant amounts of negative reviews. It seems that if you directly google the company you have no problem discerning the true nature; but if you instead only google the brand names it sells, the company is at the top of the rankings. Turns out that all the negative advertisement he generates from reputable sites gives him countless links that inflate his pagerank."
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No Press Is Bad Press Even Online

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  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @10:45AM (#34364446)
    This shows the failure of how hyperlinks works and how the page rank algorithm works.

    The Page rank algorithm determines how useful a site is based on the amount of hyperlinks TO the website. Each count is multiplied by how reputable a website is - so if its a huge website which brings in millions of users - then its more likely to be reputable than a website on a free host which gets 10 hits a year.

    Now the problem with hyperlinks is that there is no semantic information attached to them - if you place a link on a page - there is no way to mark it as "This is a dangerous page" for example, or "This guy is an idiot, someone shut him up" or "This is an adverstiment, they have nothing to do with us". So the crawler notices a reputable website is linking on another site - and gives points accordingly.

    The best solution is to add semantic information to hyperlinks - but that's not supported yet...
    • The best solution is to add semantic information to hyperlinks - but that's not supported yet...

      or you could read the entire post that contains the link

    • by datapharmer (1099455) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @11:12AM (#34364604) Homepage
      sure there is, use rel="nofollow" if you don't want to share link love.
      • Er... this is not Redundant.
        Its a real thing.
        That does exactly what the GP was talking about.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nofollow [wikipedia.org]

        • It was marked redundant because it was mentioned further up the page. It's now marked informative now, though, and probably rightfully so, since it's the kind of information that SHOULD be repeated.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Calydor (739835)
        And how exactly do you suggest doing that on, say, a consumer forum using very limited BBcode? The moment you don't have control over the code generated on the page you may as well give up on being fancy.
        • by cduffy (652)

          That's the job of the BBcode rendering engine. If they're not adding rel=nofollow universally (or, at minimum, by default), the folks maintaining the relevant libraries need a smack upside the head.

          • by lwsimon (724555)

            Exactly. If I found a page of bad reviews that was PR5 and none of them had nofollows - I'd add every website I could fit :)

    • This shows the failure of how hyperlinks works and how the page rank algorithm works.

      Hardly: a search engine just makes it easy to find popular sites. With popular meaning 'much visited, linked from many other sites', not 'containing useful info from trustworthy source'. A user's mistake starts when he/she loses track of that distinction.

      Of course you'd want the 'useful info from trustworthy source', but that's not a search engine's job (to decide what's 'good' or 'bad' info), is it? Google finds it, you decide what it means.

      • by AvitarX (172628)

        Except when shopping they do provide extra information. I would simply recommend people using the product search. It conveniently has a seller rating.

      • Of course you'd want the 'useful info from trustworthy source', but that's not a search engine's job (to decide what's 'good' or 'bad' info), is it? Google finds it, you decide what it means.

        Successful businesses deliver something that people want. Google and others get this, you don't. You're looking at the scenario from the point of view of an employee who does only what he's obligated to do and nothing more.

        Incidentally, I personally *DO* occasionally rely on Google to identify a site's legitimacy even now. In situations where a project/organization/company's domain name is not obvious ( e.g. mplayer), googling their name will generally show the top result as the actual, legit site, instead

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      How about people do some research first? Caveat Emptor.

      I was going to suggest a star system. But any rating system can be gamed, by the web site itself or its competitors.

      Also, instead of searching the lowest possible price, find a reasonable one from a known and trustworthy vendor. I have little sympathy for the low dollar hounds that then scream about bad customer service.

      OTOH, that's not a criticism of the lady here, she obviously paid money for her glasses and just got stuck with an abusive lying ass

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Moryath (553296)

        No, how about the regulatory agencies responsible for handling business licensing, fraud, and criminal prosecutions actually get off their ass and do something about this guy?

        It should be easy enough to set up a sting on him. Buy a pair of glasses, check if they're fakes, attempt to return them, see what he does in return and record any messages he leaves along with any other interactions with a "honeypot" credit card account.

        The problem is that law enforcement agencies in the US aren't interested in doing

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          And since according to TFA there's a good chance what he's selling are largely counterfeits, and we just discussed THAT issue ... why isn't he being taken down for selling counterfeit merchandise?

          • by Haedrian (1676506)
            Because there's no Eyeglasses Association of America (EGAA) yet.
            • by Reziac (43301) *

              True :) But there is a division of the FBI that deals with counterfeit goods, is there not? I know they've busted dealers of fake-label clothing; eyeglasses should be in the same bucket, perhaps moreso considering how much the damned things cost.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rtfa-troll (1340807)

      This shows the failure of how hyperlinks works and how the page rank algorithm works.

      In fact what this shows is the failure of the current idea that people don't need to be educated about computers. In this case, the question the person has asked is "which is the most 'interesting' link related to Lafont eyglasses". And "interesting" is defined as something like "most discussed". The person thinks they have asked "magically tell me where is the most interesting Lafont link for me".

      Page rank is doing exactly what it's meant to do. Now people have to understand what that is. Once the

      • by chebucto (992517)

        The example in the article is that a lady searched for some brand of eyeglasses, and the scammer's site was the first result. Call me a populist, but I don't think people should be expected to learn how PageRank works in order to decipher the results of a simple search for some brandname. Google should have a mechanism to handle the bad-reviews-give-good-rank bug.

        Educating people is still a good thing, but at first blush I would think teaching people to check the background of the sites they do buisness wit

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Now the problem with hyperlinks is that there is no semantic information attached to them - if you place a link on a page - there is no way to mark it as "This is a dangerous page" for example, or "This guy is an idiot, someone shut him up" or "This is an adverstiment, they have nothing to do with us".

      It's called rel=nofollow. HTH, HAND.

    • The best solution is to add semantic information to hyperlinks - but that's not supported yet...

      From TFA (which CAN be linked without the loginwall [nytimes.com]):

      “If you have a lot of people who hate Obama, for instance, and you decided to rank on love or hate, you might not be able to find the White House and that would be terrible,” he says.

    • by gdshaw (1015745)

      The Page rank algorithm determines how useful a site is based on the amount of hyperlinks TO the website. Each count is multiplied by how reputable a website is - so if its a huge website which brings in millions of users - then its more likely to be reputable than a website on a free host which gets 10 hits a year.

      I think it would be more accurate to say that pagerank measures how notable (as opposed to reputable) a site is. Therein, of course, lies the problem.

    • by Zoxed (676559)

      > The best solution is to add semantic information to hyperlinks - but that's not supported yet...

      It would never work as it relies on the honesty of the web page writer (same as meta-data tags are not useful for determining the contents of a page.

      • by cduffy (652)

        Are you saying that a person writing a review saying "Company X screwed me!" would intentionally add semantic information to the hyperlink indicating that Company X is trustworthy? Or are you saying that the folks who own review clearinghouse sites (specifically, ones with high Pagerank values) would intentionally provide metadata contrary to the reviews that they host?

        The topic for this article is presumptively honest negative reviews on trusted review sites (as other sites -- such as those run directly by

    • The necessary semantic information to prevent this already exists: it's called rel="nofollow" [wikipedia.org].

      nofollow is a value that can be assigned to the rel attribute of an HTML a element to instruct some search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target's ranking in the search engine's index. It is intended to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of search engine spam, thereby improving the quality of search engine results and preventing spamdexing from occurring.

      The problem is simply getting people to tag links at all.

    • You seem to have confused popular with reputable, i.e popular = A Good Thing. Just because a thing has many fans does not mean it is reputable. I give you Justin Bieber.

    • by leenks (906881)

      Supposedly Google only use PageRank in less than about 0.1% of queries now (from a Google Engineer that presented at a previous employer of mine)

    • by HTH NE1 (675604)

      So it's like The Three Amigos: unable to tell the famous from the infamous.

  • No need to RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 28, 2010 @10:47AM (#34364456)

    Thanks to the NYT's valiant efforts, you can be spared from reading TFA: just check out the comic [nytimes.com] instead.

    • by sootman (158191)

      No, read the article. It's much better (worse.) There's a special place in Hell reserved for this guy.

  • Nofollow? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WPIDalamar (122110) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @10:54AM (#34364486) Homepage

    Perhaps review sites should add nofollow attributes to their external links

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nofollow [wikipedia.org]

    Maybe just for negative reviews?

    • Re:Nofollow? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by janek78 (861508) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @10:58AM (#34364512) Homepage

      Or maybe not use hyperlinks? I mean, if I want to warn people about www.crazyscammer.com, why would I need to make it into a clickable link? I don't. Now he gets linked from NYTimes. Well done.

      • Since the story broke, things have changed a bit. The ISP has or was going to take down the site. Master card and visa are blocking his service and ebay has blacklisted him. It seems others don't want to test the "negative" publicity angle.
    • by Haedrian (1676506)
      I had never heard of this attribute before. And I'm pretty sure that "Blogger using automatic content system to input the article" wouldn't have heard of it either.

      Sure you can do it with all links, but that'll ruin how Page Rank works.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mounthood (993037)

        rel="nofollow" isn't new and it's useful for large websites with user submitted content. Slashdot, for example, adds it to outbound links to remove any incentive to increase page rank by spamming links. All the major search engines respect it AFAIK.

        • by ais523 (1172701)
          Well, if a link's flagged as "we think there's a decent chance this link is irrelevant or spam and will contaminate your search results", what sensible search engine would pay attention to it? This is one of the cases where nofollow helps both the website that uses it, and the search engine that looks at it.
    • Re:Nofollow? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by plover (150551) * on Sunday November 28, 2010 @11:54AM (#34364880) Homepage Journal

      How about combining the worst with the worst? Add "nofollow" to any links in negative reviews, and copy negative reviews to a shadow site that's filled with links to sites known for porn, pedophilia, viruses and malware.

  • Seriously tried a couple of the searches in the article.... nothing came up. Maybe they fixed it for this guy, who knows. Anyway, I always check for feedback on new (possibly sketchy) sites. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
    • Google: Christian Audigier glasses
      • Good point, 5th from the top.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by oDDmON oUT (231200)

        Google: Christian Audigier glasses

        DME is #6 on that results page, what's your point?

        A smart shopper would click here [google.com], and quickly find that DME is *not* a low price leader for any style of frame from that designer, pictured on the results page.

        Not to mention that lower priced vendors on that page are associated with e-tailers that have standards and pull...or is Amazon not "all that" anymore?

        Do your homework on the vendor you intend to buy from, don't take links blindly, and you'll be fine.

        • by StikyPad (445176)

          In TFA, he mentions that he also sells through Amazon using a business name he won't disclose. To be fair, he says he offers much better service through Amazon because they have a low threshold for dissatisfied customers, but personally I don't want to risk giving him my money, which now rules out Amazon.

  • I read the NY Times article last night at work, and did a bit of looking around at metafilter, reditt, and other sites. It was going to show up on slashdot eventually, and thought about the comments to follow. I'd group them as:
    1. Google is teh evil for it's algorithms
    2. Let's harass this asshat
    3. The BBB/police/FBI/NY AG is inept
    How about we go in another direction in the comments? (I will admit some amusement at what he will go through now that he's come to wide attention).
    What should we do?

  • big deal. it's simply functioning as designed.
  • for this guy and not for the better as he expected.
    A quick search on LAFONT CIBA VISIONS (they contacts first mentioned in the story) now show 11 results on the first page, of those SIX are either this story or re-posts of the story on other websites.
    The other 5 results appear to be for things like BizRate and for legit CIBAVISIONS outlets.

    Clicking through page 2, 3 etc there is at least ONE site showing a discussion about the NY Time article but DecorEyes does not show up.

    maybe I am not using the corr
    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      You're doing it wrong, Lafont and Ciba Vision are different brands. She found Lafont frames on DecorMyEyes first, then decided to order the contacts at the same time.

      DecorMyEyes is halfway down the list for both "Lafont Eyeglasses" and "Discount Designer Frames".

      No longer #1, but still top 10 for both.

  • Blaming Google? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MDMurphy (208495) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @11:29AM (#34364716)

    Reading the article I had to shake my head at the complaints that "Google should do something". Do they think the phone book people should boot him out or circle his name in red too?

    I've seen people complain in online forums about ads or intrusive product placement in TV shows and movies. And what do they do? They mention the product or company 3-4 times in their rant. On threads where I've commented I've tried to encourage people not to name the specific product or company in their rant, but too many clueless people out there. You hate the placement but remember it well enough to bitch about it online. Advertiser searches for online comments and finds many, so the campaign was successful.

    Heck, the Times article just boosted the guy's profile even more! There wasn't just one mention of the company, but many, increasing the rank. Of course the company name is still likely to just show up in a search for the company not the brand names.

    So the guy is an ass, but all the clueless people who want to blame someone else ( Google ) and not do research on a company but just buy whatever is claimed to be the cheapest. They may not be getting what they deserve, but they did contribute to their problems by their lack of due diligence. "Too good to be true" is still a true statement. If you find something online where everyone has it for about the same price but someone magically has it much lower you're asking for trouble. That's when you really need to check on the reputation of the seller.

    • by TheLink (130905)

      On threads where I've commented I've tried to encourage people not to name the specific product or company in their rant, but too many clueless people out there.

      Heck, the Times article just boosted the guy's profile even more! There wasn't just one mention of the company, but many, increasing the rank.

      So the guy is an ass, but all the clueless people who want to blame someone else ( Google ) and not do research on a company but just buy whatever is claimed to be the cheapest

      1) How are you going to check the reputation of the seller/product if everyone does what you suggest and not name names?
      2) Search engines like Google and Bing don't simply rank by "number of mentions".

      You don't seem that clueful yourself.

      There will always be clueless people (and he wants to only do business with the weak and/or clueless). The real problem is cops and regulators aren't doing their jobs and stopping him- assuming he really made threatening and fraudulent phone calls.

      • by MDMurphy (208495)

        Giving you a clue for free:

        You can mention the product or site and still obfuscate the name. You can keep from posting links to the seller's web site if you don't want to add to their business. Also I was referring to product placement comments not seller rating sites. ( You omitted that when quoting me to attempt to make some sort of argument )

        "simply rank by number of mentions" is your clueless comment. Adding "simply" to what I wrote changes it to nonsense. More mentions in a page makes that page mor

        • by TheLink (130905)

          You can mention the product or site and still obfuscate the name.

          There are so many ways to obfuscate the names. So how are you going to research it? If everyone uses obfuscated names it's going to be much harder when researching.

          The same clueless people would have even more difficulty researching obfuscated names than the clueful, so they'll just be as screwed as before, while those with a clue would have to work harder to figure out obfuscated names. So what's the net benefit of your suggestion?

          It should be pretty obvious that obfuscation is a stupid idea.

          • by MDMurphy (208495)

            I was making a comparison to discussions about intrusive advertising both times I suggested obfuscating company product names. The whole purpose behind that suggestion was to limit the ability to search for them, to limit the effectiveness of the annoying advertising or product placement. So you got that part right, you just missed the point.

    • Reading the article I had to shake my head at the complaints that "Google should do something". Do they think the phone book people should boot him out or circle his name in red too?

      Google should do something. Not because of any moral or ethical obligation, but because it is good business. There are numerous examples of internet businesses that have followed the pattern:
      1) Attract lots of traffic, become immensely profitable.
      2) Attract enough traffic to become appealing to parasites.
      3) Become so infested

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Google SHOULD do something. That's what pagerank is all about.

  • 4Chan assemble (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frap (1806452) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @11:31AM (#34364720)

    I wouldn't wish 4Chan's wrath on my worst enemy but it sounds like this guy needs a taste of his own medicine to me.

    • Re:4Chan assemble (Score:4, Insightful)

      by M4DP4RROT (1377075) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @01:48PM (#34365734)
      Unfortunately, TFA makes this guy sound like someone 4chan would worship, actually: a man who's made internet trolling into a successful business model! If anything, 4chan users are more likely to emulate than emasculate.
  • If this guy is all about the traffic, maybe he would appreciate a DDoS attack? Not that I'm implying anything.
  • The NYTimes has an 8-page exposé on how an online business is thriving because of giant amounts of negative reviews

    No. Choose one:

    giant amounts of negative review
    giant numbers of negative reviews

  • Short-sighted? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfengel (409917) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @12:05PM (#34364936) Homepage Journal

    It may be that the guy is raking in cash today, but he's not just being a jackass: he's committing crimes. It's fiendishly difficult to prosecute some kinds of online crimes, especially when routed through overseas sites, but this guy does not seem to be protecting himself.

    It's always wise to be suspicious of "trend" stories, since newspapers love to spot a single instance, call it a "trend", and get everybody yapping. But even if there is a "trend" here, it'll get cut right short if this guy gets arrested.

    Which may be the real purpose behind the piece: take an injustice that is too small for authorities to take notice, raise its profile, and take some satisfaction when the police step in.

    There may well be a marketing tactic to be had in providing rotten customer service and benefiting from the links provided by sites too dumb to use "nofollow". But there's a line between "rotten service" and "outright fraud", and this guy is well over it.

    • by dcollins (135727)

      "But even if there is a 'trend' here, it'll get cut right short if this guy gets arrested."

      RTFA: Guy's been arrested twice already.

      • by jfengel (409917)

        Thanks for pointing that out. I did RTFA, but I musta missed that.

        I guess he figures the money must be worth the time, but it seems unlikely.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sampas (256178)
      The guy in the story is taking advantage of the fact that the authorities (who we're paying for via tax dollars) will do absolutely nothing for months and months until more and more complaints pile up. Most police reports are now online so that crime victims don't waste officers' time reporting crimes. The victim in the story reported the crime to numerous authorities, who responded by doing nothing for a long time. Likewise, the bank did nothing. It would be cool if Google did something about it, but it's
  • I'd really like to see a microformat for reviews take off. It could start in parallel to existing link-counting schemes so we just need a critical mass implementing it. Counting links is easy for search engines but we could get much better information by saying what we mean instead of just a link, possibly with nofollow.

    There is hReview [microformats.org] but it's in really bad shape. There isn't any agreement on nomenclature for the reviews -- no scales or weighting schema, or any way to communicate a rating schema. Anyone k

  • The solution to this seems pretty obvious to me. Don't blindly use search engines for shopping. Why in the world would anyone sane google for a product, go to that site, and enter a credit card number?

    I buy my running shoes online, but I don't just google '"New Balance" 883 9-2E' and then go to the top hit and buy. I buy through Amazon, which shows me retailers that are willing to sell me those shoes and gives me users' ratings for the various retailers.

    Granted, it's unfortunate that this has the effect

    • If I'm about to spend enough that I'll care if it goes south and find an apparent bargain, I may give weight to early results, but I'll also search on the companies names, look for reviews, and see if the BBB has any complaints.

      Of course, the downside is that reviews are going to have a negative tendency if at all possible. When things go ok, people aren't motivated to say anything. When things go bad, they will step up. This is one reason I look hard for comments associated with bad reviews to see if it

      • by bcrowell (177657)

        Of course, the downside is that reviews are going to have a negative tendency if at all possible.

        Yeah, and although I hate putting money into the pockets of Amazon and E-Bay, this is the reason that they're really useful. They both try pretty hard to get buyers to rate sellers, and therefore you get a relatively unbiased set of ratings compared to what you'd get from the BBB, etc.

      • Yeah, if a deal even has a whiff of to-good-to-be-true or I've never heard or dealt with the company I will usually do a search for (company name fraud) or (company name scam) in the Google. You have to take the results with a grain of salt and use some judgment: there are some loud, unreasonable customers out there. But typically a company trend is fairly evident.
    • by dangitman (862676)

      Why in the world would anyone sane google for a product, go to that site, and enter a credit card number?

      Because it's quick and convenient?

    • by leenks (906881)

      Having been burnt many times by Amazon "stores" I'll quite happily take my chances with stores I find on a search engine that appear reputable to me. And over all those I'll try and source things locally first, even if it costs a bit more.

      Case in point - I just bought a new thermostatic mixer shower (and fitted it at yesterday) from a local supplier rather than Amazon or eBay because the local supplier has been here for donkeys years and it is easy to deal with them for returns / warrantee issues. Too many

  • I find that using MyWOT [mywot.com] coupled with Chrome keeps me from stuff like this. Both of those reporting tools are crowd-sourced and goes back to the old word-of-mouth method of advertising. Otherwise, you just stick with the places you know.

  • After the initial hubub dies down in a few hours of days, who'll remember why?

    The idiot consumer'll just remember that he'd heard the name somewhere.

    That's the fault of the "non retentive nature" of media.

    Unless there are "survival reasons" to remember, we forget.

    You're countrymen ate children from a certain economic/religious/ethnic group in the previous war?

    Get into a media relegated memory economy and you'll be able to generate positive press in no time.

    You'd have to really f*ck up badly to become a pari

  • by epseps (39675) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @01:13PM (#34365464)

    But I do doubt that it is good for his business.

    He claims that using google maps to stalk angry customers combined with harassing phone calls threatening rape helps his business with Search Engine Optimization from generating negative reviews.

    His techniques match those of Brooklyn based discount camera and electronics retailers of a few years ago, with the object of the personal phone calls being to get a few $100 more out of suckers who think they are getting the best price on something. These camera scammers used to have multiple websites, cheap cameras listed and they would call and threaten customers using "Italian" names. Then complaints would mount and they would leave and move on to the next website, but I do not think they earned much money by doing this.

    One reason I doubt Borker (hilarious name) is making loads of cash on this is because he handles the phone calls himself, that means there are not many calls (he answers "Eyewear" in the same way the camera guys used to answer the phone "Photography" or "Cameras") but I do believe he is making money off of something. Perhaps it is his other company that is referenced in older whois lookups of his websites called AOSI, which appeared to be a search engine optimization company. I am not sure the company has the same name now, but that might explain why he was happy to be interviewed about his crappy businesses.

    Oh, and I really doubt his Wall Street story too. He used to have an office at 305 Madison Avenue which is a temporary office / mobile office rental address. He formed "OpticGenius.com" and ran it from there. I do not know too many "Wall Street" people who give up their jobs and devote themselves to running scams from home or temporary offices as a better source of income.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This guy's got Russian Mafia written all over him.

    If you do decide to fuck with him, I suggest you make VERY sure whatever you do
    cannot be traced back to you. I've known a few of these characters, and they
    make anything you saw in "The Godfather" look like Sesame Street.

  • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @02:36PM (#34366102)

    Sure, Google DecorM****s.com and the top five hits are all for that company, followed by a link to Resellerratings.com [resellerratings.com] where the company has a stunning 1.39 lifetime rating out of 10.

    Googling Lafont (with multiple suffixes), designer glasses or designer frames brings up a number of vendors, DecorMy... not being one of them.

    Seems to me people need to hone their search skills and *always* search for ratings on vendors when ever they make a purchase, particularly when using them for the first time.

    [Please note, I munged the company name, just to insure he gets no wuffie from this post]

    • by nashv (1479253)
      Eh? I don't have an NYTimes account and I could read the article just fine...
  • How is this person not in jail. Threats of sexual assault, threats of regular assault (in email), harassment (in email or voicemail, easily passed to the police), fraud (pretending to be her when calling Citi).

    The fact that the police id not follow through is appalling

  • No Press Is Bad Press Even Online

    an online business is thriving because of giant amounts of negative reviews.

    ...because that worked out SO well for Cook's Source Magazine.

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