Google Places – Reviewer Names No Longer Showing. Feature or Bug?

Last week the name of review posters disappeared in Canada. It appears that they have now stopped showing for reviews in the US now as well.

Here is a review on Places today:

 .

Here is the same review from October 20th of this year:

Google review with reviewer name

For a serious student of reviews I find this loss of information regrettable. Who knows why Google made this decision to add another level of anonymity to reviews. If anything, a great review site should be shining the light of transparency on reviewers. This change not only makes thorough investigation of review abuses impossible, it makes reviewers less accountable for their actions.

Being able to see the corpus of reviews by a given reviewer allows readers to understand the context of the review and more about the reviewer as well.

The lack of accountability on the internet has lead to significant review abuses. From where I sit, Google should be moving in the opposite direction. Given Google’s bogus review removal policy up to this point, requiring real names for reviews and making the poster more responsible is the best way to bring the system into some sort of balance.

It is possible that this change is but one bug among many in the pantheon of Google Places bugs. Jim Rudnick reports that the names appear to be coming and going in the review space in Canada. Here’s one time that I for one, am wishing for a bug!

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32 thoughts on “Google Places – Reviewer Names No Longer Showing. Feature or Bug?”

  1. Yikes! I hope this is a temporary thing. From where I sit, names of reviews still appear.

    As a consumer, I’ve given a smaller number (21) of G Maps reviews both positive and one unfortunate negative. I make sure to include both my full name and mug to help ensure it’s an honest review for the company to either showcase or think about what they may want to change. Thanks for the heads up, Mike.

  2. Hey Paul

    Boy I have a hard time believing that it will stay this way…. but reviews are undergoing massive changes at the moment and they weren’t stable before …

    But as Seb Provencher pointed out on Twitter: They basically just removed the only “social” connection element of their page. It’s now difficult to judge the review value.

  3. That would denfinitely be a step backwards, since every review site does provide users with such a necessary information like the review-history of a certain user…

    I think that it certainly will be a bug, since Google has just introduced the option for SMBs to respond to reviews a few weeks ago – they even published guidelines for SMBs on how to react in a polite manner…

  4. hopefully it’s just something silly, such as Google acting on “it would be interesting to test how anonymous reviews perform compared to username reviews”…

  5. Mike:

    Like you, I hope its a bug. Just looked at Google reviews at one of our businesses: 1 review has a name and 2 don’t.

    That is buggy, isn’t it?

    Of note, we responded to each review, incorporating the person’s name. 2 were favorable and we thanked the reviewer.

    We strongly suspect one was planted by a business competitor. It was one of 3 reviews in 3 different review venues, each of which used terminology that was A) Totally false and not representative of our precise business practices; and B) reflected an attack on our credibility using language that has attacked this industry for years.

    We do the opposite from the attack language.

    In fact in one review venue we were successful in having the review removed. It took some effort. We went through the elements of the review; its usage of language that mirrored all the attack reviews: gave examples of reviews that reflected the complete opposite of what we claimed was “unsubstantiated attack language”.

    After some back and forth, the review venue removed the “attack review”. The website that did so was Yahoo.

    We went through the same process with Yelp. They didn’t remove the review, but surprisingly following the “back and forth” they began to show a different set of reviews, including positive ones that completely repudiated the negative review we strongly believe was planted.

    At least they gave us the opportunity to make our case, as did Yahoo.

    To tell the truth, I haven’t even bothered to contest the “attack review” on Google. Their responsiveness is so typically miserable I figured, why bother.

    We did write a response though.

    I do hope this removal of names is merely a bug. Reviews are a terribly sensitive, powerful, and manipulative element of the web today. Honest positive reviews are worth their weight in gold. Sham attack reviews can harm businesses.

    There should be a way to deal with this phenomena

  6. perhaps this is related to their microformats/rich snippets initiatives…

    i.e., google is sucking these in from hcard-tagged pages somewhere, and just dumping them in as reviews by “google users”…

  7. If this was a conscious move, it sure is a terrible decision as it removes your ability to view a user’s reviews history and report abuse.

    On the other hand, this might have been driven by the fact that one’s Google Account name is attached to some other Google services (eg Google Profiles) and unless you put in a “Nickname” in your account settings, that same name will be used across both services. I have heard concerns in the past of user fearing leaving a negative review that can in any way be traced back to their identity by the reviewed company. Not sure how prevalent such concerns are, but something to think about.

  8. Yup, great post/comments here Mike. Been looking at this “now ya see em & now ya dont” for over a week now…and have commented before on this “missing reviewer name” item for about that long.

    It appears that for screenshots I’ve got from 3 months ago, somehow, Google has “edited” the reviewer names out for like 12 of 14 reviews for a big local car dealership. Why? I’ve no idea….the two that are left I’ve been over the copy and can not determine why they remain and others are gone….

    The whole “democratization” of the new blended PlaceSearch layouts IMHO, requires the name of the reviewer….it allows the user to check to see what other reviews that they’ve made and in their own mind, to assign a “validity” value to same. Without that, the user will learn QUICKLY — did you hear that Google??? — that reviews are pure hogwash and NOT to be trusted…

    I sincerly hope that G listens to us…at least the “reviews from around the web” and the favicon, allow a user to drill down to see who that is, what other reviews they’ve posted and assign that “validity” value to same….

    ;-)

    Jim

  9. Here’s to hoping this is a bug. There are SO many bugs in how Google handles reviews. It used to drive me crazy how the reviews I’ve written in Google would play hide and seek all the time. Now, I just figure it’s a bug when mine suddenly go missing, only to return again the next time I check. This is obviously different, but I’m still going to hope it’s a bug, for the reasons you’ve mentioned, Mike. Increasing the opacity of the review situation is not a step forward for anyone (except spammers).

  10. @Mike Bl – I just looked over some search results. It seems that for InsiderPages, Judysbook, Yelp, etc the name is showing up unless Google isn’t pulling a real review and it’s some other comment that looks like a review.

    I think this problem is relegated to Google user reviews and that separate section. I agree with all of your comments that it doesn’t make sense and is a poor decision if not a bug.

    @Mike Bunnell – I think the hCard formats pull into the non Google user reviews section so I don’t think it’s that problem here?

    On a related note, I wish Google would do more to validate that the people who post reviews are real people. ie google users who actively use gmail, or some other verification technique. It’s a dicey slope, but somehow this area of credible reviewers and reviews has got to improve.

    Jeff

  11. @JeffM There is definitely some reviews on that insiderpages page that i linked to that are showing up in the google places page as reviews by google users.

    for example the one titled “the best experience ever”…

  12. @Jeff

    Yes the issue is with google reviews.

    @Mike

    “the best experience ever” is from InsiderPages but I am referring to the loss of names on the Google reviews.

  13. In addition to the missing names, have any of you guys noticed the user generated content (mymaps + KML) missing as well from most of your listings? I’ve just noticed that on a few listings.

  14. Mike, this certainly works against discouraging what I deem to be the most egregious abuse of the platform, SMB’s who use of Review Farms, who claim to be reputation management firms but do nothing more than post fictitious 5 star reviews. To the contrary, it makes it easier for them (not that they care) because you can no longer expand to see the many additional reviews from all over the U.S. in each of the gmail accounts they created. Why have I never heard this question posed to Matt Cutts? What would be his position on this matter?

  15. I just saw this too here in Los Angeles. It is real recent because yesterday I just saw the names appearing. Looking at the other reviews people have left is really the only way to get any context about someone’s review. And for the really lazy and/or stupid shills, you can spot them when they leave a 5 star view for one business and a 1 star review for a competitor. Search on Google, this is the only blog post that mentions this effect.

  16. OK, I can cope with missing names, but now I’ve noticed that many citations are gone. Is it just me or this is another massive bug?

  17. Is anyone else seeing this pattern:
    - Reviewers who have made more than one review have their user names and links appear while reviewers with perhaps just a single entry under their ID have had their names disappear?

    I checked several companies I reviewed and a link to my ID appears each time. (I was not logged into my G account.) Seems others whose IDs appear have also made more than one review and/or have created a MyMap.

    Tried to check a few spam listings with serial reviews (on multiple, nested spam listings) and those reviews have disappeared entirely. New reviews have popped up in the last week or so, but they don’t link to User IDs.

    Is this a temporary measure to flesh out serial review spammers? Will the spammers just learn how to create more sock puppet accounts?

    All this is just speculations…. anyone else seeing the pattern?

  18. Cathy

    I am seeing that but it looks to me as if it might have more to do with your Google Profile setting:
    Display my full name so I can be found in search (also required to use Google Buzz and Latitude)

    more so than the number of reviews. The reason I say that is that I have found reviews with reviewers names that have made only one review. Which is not to say that Google is not putting in place some sort of review trust algo.

  19. Hmmmmm. Perhaps this all goes to G user privacy issues?

    If so, it definitely harms the general credibility of many of user reviews entered directly into G.

  20. @Cathy

    I just did a test and created two reviews each under different users and each only having that one review.

    The reviewer that didn’t show their information publicly, did not show their name on the review. The one that did, had his name on the review.

  21. @Mike

    If that’s the case, that’s a shame. Google is doing it under the ruse of privacy. The more corporate Google gets, the more “Evil” they become.

    They’re probably gearing up for the roll out of their big social network and they don’t want it to fail in the first week because of privacy issues, so now they are making a stupid blunder like this.

  22. Found it a completely ludicrous deceision by Google to remove the publically visible usernames of reviewers and agree with many of the statements made above.

    As per the recent discovery that if you display your full name so you can be found in search then your name will appear on your reviews. I have left a review for one business and allow my profile to be found in search yet the review appears to be anonymous still (I am in the UK so there may be differences between what I and you can see).

  23. I really dislike the reviews listed with Google Places and other review sites. Too much abuse from competitors using fake reviews to slam clients. I think they should not be anonymous and should have IP addresses listed if you really want to list a review, plus full contact information showing. Good way to destroy someones business with no accountability.

  24. I hate to disturb all this unanimity, but I think that those posting most of the above opinions must not live in small towns. Posting a candid comment about a locally owned and operated restaurant, for example, can bring a fair amount of retaliation in an environment where “everyone knows everyone”. Thus honest and candid comments will tend not to get posted at all in such an environment — a loss to the dining public in my opinion.

    Currently (2014) Google insists on showing real names. Since they adopted that policy I have ceased posting any reviews or comments on Google. I believe that my posts (both positive and negative) have been thoughtful and honest, and would therefore have been helpful to others. But I also value my privacy, so no more posts in Google for me.

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