I mention this because, a few weeks ago, I met Nikhil Ganju, who heads the operations for TripAdvisor in India. I am sure you know of this website, this massive portal of information, a mammoth mothership of reviews and opinions. If you havent yet used it, you must have certainly heard of ita portal that lists hospitality establishments (hotels, restaurants, bars) and allows people to comment on, share pictures and experiences, and also rate these places. Conceptually, the idea doesnt seem very powerful or authoritative; in fact, it sounds rather scattered and ridden with ambiguity as an isolated attempt. But extrapolate the idea over a few million people, and then some more, and you have a great platform for self-generating and self-propagating democratic reviews.
Democracy, in all its glory, only truly works when the maximum numbers participate actively and enthusiastically. Even when opinions abound, democracy has a way of absorbing the anomalies. For example, the same place can receive contrasting reviews on the same day from two different sets of visitors. Perceptions and interpretations are highly idiosyncratic and to rely on a few is never advisable. But imagine the cumulative readings from a few million people all talking about the same place! Even if one were to discount for gullible clients (who dont know what to expect), the influential (who get more than your average, for example, food critics), the unintelligent (best not explained) or the unfazed (the cool, calm types), what we are finally left with is the precipitated average of the wisdom of a worlds worth of patrons.
It is akin to grouping all types of clients, from people who get great service to none at all, and all forms of expectations, from desiring personal butlers to self-service, and then throwing them in the same cauldron and brewing up a collective rating for a place.
Safe to say, the system works and the best part is that this is now being applied to wines too. Apps like Vivino allow people to share and rate the same product simultaneously the world over. Winesearcher.com is another useful link. The collective score is available for anyone to browsedemocratic and transparent. So what does this mean in the long run: death to the critic Perhaps. If not an entire wipe-out then, certainly, a definite hurtful blow. If we can assume that a learned critic cannot be bought out, then we must extend a similar respect to such sites, which exercise democracy in their review formats.
The only two caveats here are (a) sites like these dont as much provide an objective idea of the place, as they hold up a mirror to the contemporary expectations on standards of food, beverage, accommodation and service that people expect for a given price; and (b) the number of people accessing the website is detrimental to the quality of the reviews, which is why I can rely on TripAdvisor with their massive online traffic (almost an astounding 90 unbiased unsolicited reviews per minute).
The others I have only used to access phone numbers and menus, never for reviews. However, moving ahead, it is pretty clear that online is where democracy truly lies.
The writer is a sommelier