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I'm not sure if I think it represents inspired design, cynical design, or inspiredly cynical design, but I've been watching the iTunes Music Store with alternately grim and admiring fascination since they started allowing user comments. I thought it was a pretty terrible idea for them from the beginning. Apple has a strong corporate personality, and one of the only strongly positive corporate personalities, and diluting it with inevitably idiotic "reviews" seemed self-evidently awful to me. Amazon has had some success creating a body of mildly thoughtful annotation, but Amazon's music department is still oriented around selling CDs, so there's some remote hope that a person writing about an album may actually have heard it.  

In the iTMS, however, not only are individual tracks sometimes more popular than whole albums, but even more significantly, it is central and trivial to listen to samples of all the material, which leads directly to the most uselessly write-only of all possible user contributions, the snap rating of albums based on first impressions of fragments of songs, by people who haven't even heard the whole thing once. It's debatable what function reviews have at all in the previewable era, but if they still have any role, surely it's to report back from extended experience with the music. If I can listen to the fragments myself, I don't need a second-hand version of that experience.  

But the self-ratcheting structure of Apple's comment system applies some brilliant/crass social judo to automatically marginalize the crap. Under each comment is the telling question "Was this review helpful? Yes/No", and then the main page for each album shows only the first few reviews (6 if there's no "editorial" review, and only 3 if there is) as sorted by helpfulness. The all-reviews page begins with one recent review, to encourage new input, and then again defaults to sorting by helpfulness. Thus the farther a review falls down the helpfulness sort, the fewer people will even see it, and the less likely it is that it will be able to move back up. The worst crap, at least, sinks.
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