Reviewing one process of reviewing: Zero stars

Anyone who knows me and has had occasion to be with me in a location with no fixed address, where we split up and get together again later, has heard me sing the praises of what3words. It’s an organization that created a free-to-use system in which the entire planet was covered in a grid of 3-metre squares, and each one was given a unique three-word identifier. To put that in perspective, try it out with the phone app where you are currently standing or sitting. Then move a few paces in any direction and locate yourself on the app again. It will have a totally different location identifier for where you are now. It’s that precise, all over the world.

That may not seem immediately helpful to people living in cities where almost everything has a fixed address of some sort. But consider for a moment walking off city streets somewhere and needing help. Consider being in a theme park where you and your family have split up but then want to know exactly where everyone else is to get together later. Consider being on a lake, or anywhere from just off-shore to in the middle of the ocean. Consider going on a hike, or a drive, or being in another country, and wanting to relay to loved ones exactly where you currently are. As long as you have a connection to the internet, anywhere on Earth, what3words will pinpoint your location in a square that’s about 9×9 feet.

Some major cities and even car manufacturers have started to employ what3words for use with navigating and to direct emergency services. So if someone has been in an accident on a stretch of highway, they can tell the dispatcher precisely where they are. Or if there’s a fire starting up in a field somewhere, or someone needs an ambulance on a beach, or they’re lost in a strange city and being followed, they can get the right kind of help exactly where it’s needed. (I’ve been trying for the last few years to get the city of Toronto on board with using what3words for our three tiers of emergency services here, but so far have gotten nothing but red tape to cut through and/or no reply. I shall persevere.)

Point being, I’m a big fan of this service.

Here’s where things went a bit weird recently. Not from what3words, but oddly, due to a review I tried to write for them.

Mid-summer, I tried using the navigation option in the what3words app for the first time. Until then I was just getting a kick out of being able to relay what tiny square of space I was currently in to others. Or to have them send me theirs. But navigation from one of those squares to another is of course very handy for something even as common as parking in a big parking lot at the mall. (You may know the letter section you were in, but was it this row, or that row? And how far down the line…?)

But the navigation option in the app wasn’t initially working for me. It was just freezing up, inoperable. I contacted them about it and heard back very quickly from their support staff, who said I needed to go into my phone settings and toggle on a particular option in order to let the app use my location in order to effectively use the navigating within the app. That done quickly and easily, the navigation worked perfectly.

I thanked the person for the help. She then said if I had the time to write a review, it would be helpful for getting the word out about the company.

Always happy to help out services and people who do good work, I followed the link she provided to a review site called Trustpilot and wrote a quick, glowing review about the staff member and the app as a whole. I had to create an account there to do so, but still. On the whole, easy-peasy.

But then a few weeks later, long after I’d already forgotten about the review, I got an email from Trustpilot saying my review had been flagged as being potential spam. In fact, my account as a whole was suspended pending an investigation into my authenticity. And could I please supply them with detailed information about the events that led to the review.

I briefly rehashed the navigation problem and solution with them, and confirmed that yes, I wrote the review. All good, thanks for checking with me, let it fly.

A couple of weeks later, they replied saying that what I had sent them back wasn’t sufficient to validate the review, and would I please supply precise information about who from where asked me to write the review. Already getting tired of this but just wanting it done, I forwarded the email reply from the what3words support staff member. That included all her business contact info, precisely was said by precisely what email account, probably loads of background metadata about the message that could be gleaned from it… and all re-confirming that yeah, this is all legit, and so am I. So yeah, the review is good to go. Thanks again.

Cut to over two months since then — I’d again forgotten all about it — and I got an email from them this morning saying what I sent them still wasn’t sufficient to validate everything they needed to clear the review.

At which point I told them again that I’d sent them literally everything I had to offer, and politely but firmly told them they could take my review or leave it — it was quick thanks to a support staff member who helped me months ago, and really not worth all this time and effort — and basically that if what I supplied them wasn’t sufficient as evidence of the validity of what3words and the support staff member and I guess of myself, that they could frankly go fly a kite.

Because here’s the thing: Is there a problem with online reviews sometimes not being legitimate? Absolutely. There’s no end of articles about investigations that verify that positive reviews for services or apps or companies are sometimes written by people in those companies, or teams working on those apps, who are writing fake positive reviews to make themselves look good to people reading those reviews. That’s a genuine problem. So, as I told them in my reply this morning, I’m glad that there are services like theirs that want to do a deep dive on verifying if the source of a review is a genuine person with a genuine experience writing a genuine review. That’s a really good thing.



I also told them that there are practical limits of what that verification process should involve. And that doesn’t include everyday users who are writing everyday reviews having to jump through hoops to prove who they are and what’s going on.

Just contacting me directly and hearing back from me would demonstrate to them that I’m a real person, and that my review wasn’t just generated online, or something. But I get that they still needed more. So I sent them everything I had received: The support staff member’s name, their business contact info… the whole package. And I can see how even that much still wouldn’t be enough to validate me as a third-party individual. I could, after all, be working for the company and just have received an email from a coworker’s company address asking me to do a review for the company. Which of course undermines the legitimacy of the review.

And on the one hand, I get that degree of investigation on their part to ensure it’s a legitimate review. But on the other hand, there’s literally nothing more I can do or say or offer them that would meet their requirements for that verification. Like, if this was my experience with Trustpilot, even after supplying them the original email of communication with the support staff, how is anyone anywhere supposed to leave a review on their site for a product or service that doesn’t have any proverbial (and sufficiently authenticated) paper trail to help verify who all the players are? If I wanted to go on their site and review this top-notch tea brand I just tried and liked, I guess… what, that would never get through their vetting process because there’s no way they can be sure I’m a legit public user leaving a legit review?

Which is to say, how does anyone possibly leave a review that gets posted on there?

So I guess… I guess… people looking for reviews can check out the Trustpilot site knowing that there’s evidently a significant department validating those reviews to death as being genuine and sincere. But on the other hand, I can’t recommend highly enough staying the hell away from them as a place to leave reviews on, because it’s a much longer process and a more/uniquely negative experience than I think almost anyone would want to bother with. As far as a place to write reviews on? Zero stars. Do not recommend.