As professional reviewers and taste-makers find themselves increasingly marginalized by the aggregate insights and observations of “the crowd”, one wonders whether the demise of printed news may actually be beaten to the punch by the obsolescence of the once-all-powerful critic.

It used to be that we relied on Patricia Wells or Brad A. Johnson to guide us from one fine dining experience to the other. Indeed, reading their restaurant reviews in the Herald Tribune or Angeleno (respectively) represented something of a tasty appetizer, prior to the main experience of visiting an emerging “hot spot” discovered by their renowned palates.

Today, we are far more likely to turn to the legion of self-anointed food critics that live on Yelp, and – by parsing their experiences – so determine our choice of venue.

Of course, this trend is not limited to food: IMDB, Metacritic, and are but a few of the resources available to moviegoers seeking to crowdsource their entertainment choices; a slew of new apps and engines, such as Weddar (location-based, people-powered, social weather reporting) and Fflick (twitter-based movie recommendation engine, recently acquired by Google), to name but a couple, are rapidly making anyone with the inclination a “retail influencer”.

It seems that for every institution, industry, and brand, there’s an app or a site ready to offer up a plethora of user-generated reviews. Amazon’s main value proposition is arguably not so much its products or pricing, but rather the fact that every one of those products is accompanied by a rich diversity of opinions from past shoppers. Groupon and Foursquare give users the opportunity to share “tips” and other product insights, and what’s Facebook if not one big moshpit of “Like/Unlike”? From PCs to software downloads, cars to cancer treatment, the experienced insights of trained professionals or deeply experienced specialists are being usurped, in favor of the massed choir of “fellow shoppers” in whom we prefer to somewhat blindly place our faith – jaded by a glut of advertising, and suspicious of prognosticators that seem less perfectionist and more political…a classic case of “quantity trumps quality”, based on the assumption that a sufficiently large aggregate of diversified opinions and reviews will yield a more truthful mean insight than one or two “professional” perspectives.

During the early days of this trend, the notion that one could turn to our peers for honest pre-purchase evaluations was both compelling and valuable. Sites such as and eBay fostered communities of idealistic shoppers, keen to ensure that their fellow consumers benefited from their prior experiences with a brand or product. As with most movements, the early days were a refreshing and invigorating alternative to what had admittedly become a somewhat stuffy status quo of entrenched, predictable, and unimaginative thinking. However, with mass adoption comes an exponential raising of the volume. The signal-to-noise ratio has diminished so swiftly that  I believe the “great experiment” risks expiring, gorged on the fat of its gluttony. Opinion aggregating sites such as Yelp are working frantically to develop and perfect algorithms that will mitigate the mess, but code often confounds the issue (many Yelp users – consumers and businesses alike – are complaining that their bona-fide reviews are being filtered for no apparent reason, and Yelp representatives explain that they have no control over the automated process of removing reviews that its algorithm deems “suspicious”).

This leaves us at the proverbial crossroad: either engineers or programmers discover and develop a stronger mechanism for managing the overwhelming pool of reviews attaching themselves to every book, diaper, TV, ointment, and car available on the Web; or we begin to find ourselves gravitating toward, and eventually anointing a select few regular reviewers, and making them the professional critics of the 21st Century, hired by their readership/viewership, and empowered to guide us all once more, as we seek out – albeit a little more frugally than our parents may have done – the next great meal, deal, or wheel.

What is certain, IMHO, is that crowdsourced review pools are fast reaching their saturation point and, unless someone begins to refine and maximize the resource, it will be as appealing and nourishing as sitting in a pool-full of marshmallows: the idea was thrilling, and the initial experience inspiring, but eventually the reality proves somewhat mind-numbing, and perhaps even a little sickening.

One of my favorite brands is behaving most oddly these days, and I wish someone would help me understand why. Extant the personal disappointment that they’ve not yet released an update to the Kindle DX (where’s the color screen and better file management infrastructure, for starters?), which is really just a personal gripe, their approach to the film-making and game development communities has been anything but enlightened. First they stuck it to the Indie film maker, and today it seems game developers are also experiencing a less than pleasant wake up call.
Now, if this were a traditional hidebound multinational conglomerate of bricks and mortar operational assets, I might understand the disconnect, but this is Amazon! This is one of the most admirably innovative, customer-oriented, inspiring brands around. This is the company whose employees are endlessly drilled in the mantra that “it’s all about keeping the customer happy”. Well, who forgot to tell Amazon that “customers” exist all along the value chain?
Lest anyone else forget, your “customer” is anyone from whom you seek an investment in to your brand. This includes vendors, shareholders, employees (especially employees!),  the Media, and end-users, among others. It does nobody any good to alienate one or more of these communities.
If anybody from Amazon is reading this, please get in touch with me, and let me know what the thinking is behind this latest move that has so angered entities such as Filmmaker Magazine, HitFix, the IGDA and Seattle Metropolitan.  I’m sure your intentions are honorable (I have to hold on to that belief. I’m too big a fan!), so it’s just the implementation that requires review. At least you opted to revisit your approach to film makers (a little), so perhaps there’s hope you will listen to some sense, with respect to game developers.

If you happen to be in Seattle in a couple of weeks, you are warmly invited to attend a panel I am moderating at this year’s National Film Festival for Talented Youth (the world’s largest youth film festival). The panel will take place at 11:30am, Friday April 29th, in the renowned SIFF Cinema (located at 321 Mercer Street at 3rd Avenue, McCaw Hall, in the heart of Seattle Center’s Theatre district).

Keynote Panel: Sharing Your Vision in the Digital Age

Financing, distribution, intellectual property, platforms and channels – these are but a few of the considerations facing today’s filmmakers, living in a world that experiences entertainment and information far beyond the confines of a theater, with all the opportunities and threats inherent in this shifting paradigm (multiplatform distribution, day-and-date, elimination of physical reel, concentric campaigns, GoogleTV/Hulu/Netflix/YouTube, streaming media, content piracy, interactive storytelling, and so much more).

This panel will comprise renowned professionals with a variety of viewpoints along the expanding content spectrum, together exploring how the modern storyteller can best ensure that their story has the greatest possible impact and value.


Hayden Black
Hayden hails from Salford, England and created, produced and co-starred in the original version of “Goodnight Burbank” back in ’06. The webisodic version was nominated for a Best Comedy Webby ’08, and won numerous other “Best Of” awards from iTunes and others. His production company, Evil Global Corp, has also been behind two other hugely popular online comedies – “Abigail’s Teen Diary” and “The Occulterers”.  All three series have been met with critical acclaim and views number collectively in the tens of millions. His latest version of Goodnight Burbank, co-starring himself, Laura Silverman and Dominic Monaghan, is the first ever half-hour comedy to be created exclusively for the web. Hayden’s also spoken and/or keynoted at a variety of conferences, including NAB, Digital Hollywood and NATPE and received a Groundbreaker of the Year Award in March 2011 from the LA Web Festival. You can follow his musings at @haydenblack but be warned.

Valerie Van Galder
Valerie had a very successful ten year tenure at Sony Pictures, joining to launch Screen Gems in 1999, and subsequently rising quickly to take on the challenges of President of Marketing for Columbia Pictures, and co-president Worldwide Theatrical Marketing for Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as, at one time, President of Tristar Pictures.  Since leaving Sony at the end of 2009 she has been consulting for such clients as MARV Productions (Matthew Vaughn), John Wells Productions, Summit Entertainment, Vendome Entertainment and the Walt Disney Company, where she is now heading up the marketing campaign for next month’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

Van Galder has launched an impressive list of hits, including such blockbusters as “The Da Vinci Code,” “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Hancock,” “Spider-Man” (TM), “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Full Monty,” “The Ice Storm,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Underworld,” “Resident Evil,” “Apocalypse,” “Boogeyman,” “You Got Served,” “Pineapple Express,” “Vantage Point,” “Superbad,” “Ghost Rider,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Click,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “RV,” “The Grudge 2,” “Gridiron Gang,” “Step Brothers,” “The Pink Panther,” “Monster House,” and Sony Pictures Animation’s first full length CGI feature film “Open Season,” among others.

Dana Brunetti
Dana is a feature film and television producer, President of Trigger Street Productions and long time business partner of company founder Kevin Spacey. Some of Brunetti’s credits include 21 (the story of MIT students who perfected the art of card counting and took Vegas for millions), “Fanboys,” the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated “Bernard and Doris,” “Casino Jack,” “Recount,” and others.  In 2009 Brunetti produced the film “The Social Network,” and his role as the producer of the project won him numerous accolades, including eight Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe for Best Picture. In 2002 Brunetti and Kevin Spacey founded, an innovative and prescient social network for emerging film and writing talent. More recently he has been involved with several new initiatives to push the boundaries of digital distribution, including a groundbreaking deal with Netflix to distribute Fincher and Spacey’s House of Cards as well as in-house production of dynamic and original live and video-on-demand content for the web.

Stan Emert
Stan Emert is the creator/producer/president of RAINMAKERS.TV, a documentary TV/video series in partnership with a PBS affiliate, that celebrates the successes of people at the bottom of the economic pyramid; NGOs; and donors, who collaborate to improve the world.  Emert has spoken on corporate social responsibility before the American Film Institute, the World Bank, and to many other significant audiences around the US. An adjunct faculty member of the University of Washington, Emert is the author of two books, and the ghostwriter of five others.

Timothy Dubel
Tim is Microsoft Corporation’s Director of Global Community Affairs, responsible for development of strategy and implementation of global philanthropic programs.  His work focuses on community based citizenship, and enabling changemakers to impact society, be it through technology, social initiatives, or through the act of telling and preserving their stories. Prior to Microsoft, Tim was with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), where he managed private sector development programs in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Moderator – Nicholas de Wolff

Click here to buy tickets.