STAR SYSTEM: URI professor Yan Lindsay Sun, center, has developed a prototype software to identify suspicious online reviews. At left in photo is Yihai Zhu and at right Yongbo Zeng, both URI Ph.D. candidates.
TripAdvisor, an online site for all things travel, has 132 reviews posted for Nick’s on Broadway in Providence. The comments range from “exquisite and elegant” to “mediocre” and “yummy brunch – worth the wait.”
Nick’s has 374 reviews on Yelp and 378 reviews on Urban Spoon, two other popular online sites among a growing number that allow the public to give opinions on where to eat, drink, sleep, buy, fly, drive or do almost anything else. “There’s also Chowhound,” said owner and chef Derek Wagner, who opened Nick’s on Broadway in 2002, when fewer customers came in specifically as a result of online reviews. “There are so many different sites out there; it’s hard to keep up with it.
“I believe when it started, there was a lot of good in it. But there’s a lot of dirty laundry airing out there that can be hurtful,” said Wagner.
And often there’s little guarantee that the reviews are even genuine. That mystery bothers University of Rhode Island professor of computer engineering Yan Sun, who has a patent pending on technology that detects patterns of suspicious behavior in online rating-review systems.
Sun and a few graduate students have been working on developing technology to find fake reviews since 2007, funded by a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
The prototype has been developed and they’re determined to have it available for a pilot program.
“We’re not going to sell it. We want to make it free to the public,” said Sun. “We want to make it available by the beginning of November, before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so consumers can have some help in making their purchasing decisions during the holidays.”
Sun’s own experiences doing much of her shopping online intersects with her interest in the issue of trust.
“In social sciences, trust is really important in any society,” said Sun. “If there’s a high level of trust, the society works more efficiently.”