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8/15/2006
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Blogs, Wikis, Forums Sway Consumer Opinion, Research Shows

Manufacturers are studying the growing phenomenon of consumer-generated reviews and other types of content and are trying to find ways to use this trend to their advantage, a new report says.

Blogger Anthony Citrano is on the hunt to purchase an add-on car navigation system before he takes a cross-country trek from Massachusetts later this year.

Rather than relying solely on information found on several manufacturers' Web sites, Citrano is getting feedback from consumer-generated content on blogs and wikis.

"I went to the companies' Web site for the technical stuff, but what meant more to me were the four or five blog entries that I read from people who had bought similar devices," Citrano said. "Uniquely voiced content moves me more than mass marketing, and I think that's true about a lot of people."

It's easy to believe product specs posted on a manufacturer's Web site, but more difficult to take their word on product performance, Citrano says. Manufacturers are paying attention, according to a report released Tuesday by JupiterResearch.

The growing phenomenon of consumer-generated content has become disruptive to online businesses, but many are studying the reviews, finding ways to use the content to their advantage, the report says.

The research found 77 percent of online shoppers read consumer product reviews and ratings. Viewers were found to be increasingly loyal to the stores that featured product feedback. Another survey determined that 22 percent of online consumers who posted feedback on forums tend to purchase more online.

Content created through the voice of the consumer is reinventing advertising. "It's shifting the power away from Madison Avenue and into consumers' hands," said Neil Sequeira, principal at General Catalysts Partners, a one billion dollar early stage venture capital firm. "Users create content they are passionate about. If there's a surfboard you love, why not create some content around it."

And more sites are popping up to populate the fields. Launched late Sunday, Wiki.com joins a list of do-it-yourself sites like Jotspot and Wikia that allow anyone to add and edit content on a specific topic. Wiki.com CEO John Gotts said consumers can register for a sub-domain on the site, while granting permission to others either to add or edit content.

MindTouch co-founder and COO Aaron Fulkerson said a team of engineers put together Wiki.com's backend in about 48 hours, from the time Gotts signed the contract, to taking the site live.

"Company names and verticals are being registered at wiki.com for people to air their opinion about a specific topic or product," Fulkerson said. "When I do a search on Google for company XYZ, and suddenly in the top ten results are opinions from user-generated content sites that can sway my opinion of the company."

Wiki.com runs on a service oriented distributed architecture (SODA), technology developed by MindTouch, a San Deigo wiki-software and hardware startup founded by former Microsoft employees. The company in July launched the first commercial open-source wiki based on open standards.

Sam Rogoway no longer reads product reviews. Instead, he spends time researching topics on wikis and social networks. So last week, the entertainment lawyer launched the travel wiki site Tripmates Inc., along with co-founder Emily Dahlberg.

"The days of reading some review from an expert is dwindling because people want to obtain their information from other users," Rogoway said. "If the social network is built around the topic, travel or cars for example, you can link to the person's profile who wrote the review to see if their likes and dislikes are similar to yours," Rogoway said.

JupiterResearch analyst Diane Clarkson wrote in a report that recommendations from family and friends are among online travel researchers' most used resources, but lifestyle descriptions of content contributors are important, too.

Not all agree that blogs, wikis and forums are the most important communication tools, ever. JupiterResearch advertising analyst Emily Riley said word of mouth, defined as online conversations, between two people that know each other is the most trustworthy method to gain information, but "it's losing trust because many strangers are entering the conversation," she said. "Word of mouth online, when it's within a company's Web site, is considered more trustworthy than considered on a random blog."

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