On the Internet, Everyone's a Critic but They're Not Very Critical

The Web can be a mean-spirited place. But when it comes to online reviews, the Internet is a village where the books are strong, YouTube clips are good-looking and the dog food is above average.

One of the Web’s little secrets is that when consumers write online reviews, they tend to leave positive ratings: The average grade for things online is about 4.3 stars out of five.

People like Jonas Luster aim to introduce a little negativity. A private chef, Mr. Luster recently beckoned fellow San Francisco area diners to “quit with the nicey-nicey” in a blog post titled “In Defense of Negative Reviews.” His own average rating on restaurant-review sites is 3.6. He even awarded celebrity chef Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse restaurant a 1-star rating after he felt he had been served an overdone duck.

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