We’re teaching a class on blockchain and cryptocurrencies this semester, and since the field is so new and changing rapidly, we’ve asked our students to make finding and reviewing articles part of their learning practice this semester. This is a particularly challenging topic for this task because there’s so much hype, marketing, and fluff around these topics. We want to slice through that, and improve the signal-to-noise for people new to learning about blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Here are some tips I just prepared for our students — they may be helpful to anyone writing article reviews, especially for technology-related areas.
0 – Type of Source. Reviews or articles from from arXiv, Google Scholar were strong; reviews from Coindesk, CNN were weak; reviews from WSJ and Hacker Noon went both ways. Here are two submissions that were publishable with only minor edits:
1 – Spelling & Grammar. Most of you are college seniors, and the few who aren’t… are juniors. Please use complete sentences that make sense, with words that are spelled correctly! If this is hard for you, remember that every one of you has spell check. One way to remember this is to draft your posts in Word, and then perform spell check before you copy and paste what you wrote into WordPress.
1 – Your job is to create the TL;DR. What’s the essential substance of the source you’re reviewing? What are the main lessons or findings? If you were taking notes for an exam, what elements would you capture? (Using this perspective, commentary about how good or bad you think the article was, or what it didn’t cover well, would not help you on an exam.)
2 – Choose solid source material — primary sources, e.g. research papers, if possible. If the article is less than ~400-500 words, it’s probably not detailed enough to write a 250-300 word summary/analysis. Your job in this class is to break down complex topics & help people understand them. If your article is short and already very easy to understand, there’s nothing for you to do.
3 – Avoid “weasel words” (phrases or sentences that sound like marketing or clickbait but actually say nothing) and words/sentences that sound like you’re writing a Yelp or Amazon review rather than a critical academic review. Here are a couple weaselly examples drawn from this week’s draft posts (see if you can spot what’s wrong):
It is clear how beneficial blockchain can be to smaller businesses.
Blockchain has the potential to change the world.
Each other the topics covered in the article deserve their own piece and could be augmented upon greatly.
There is a degree of uncertainty that comes with an emerging technology.
Blockchain can bring them into the 21st century to compete with larger corporations.
Many people are scared of the changes, and governments will seek to regulate it.
4 – Answer the “so what” question. Why is this topic interesting or compelling?
5 – Choose information-rich tags. For example, in our class, don’t include blockchain as a tag… pretty much everything we do will be related to blockchain, and everyone will tend to use it, so there won’t be much information contained in the tag.
I met a guy named Brent at the Artful Dodger in Harrisonburg, VA last Friday. He’s behind @hburgnews on twitter, so I started following him, and through his tweets found a neat blog post detailing one person’s experience with Harrisonburg bars: In Vino Veritas: A Meditation on Value by Andrew Jenner, posted on February 11, 2010.
I think about quality and value all the time, so naturally (notwithstanding my intrinsic interest in learning more about Harrisonburg social venues, ie. bars) I read his blog post through an academic lens. My 2 cents of review on the quality and value of Harrisonburg bars, based on HIS review, is thus the substance of this post. (Does that make my review a re-review, or is that redundant?)
Typically when we think of quality, we think of the quality of a product or service. Lots of organizations, though, choose to emphasize the quality of the customer experience – which relates the transcendent, aesthetic involvement of a person with that product or service. The “customer experience” in a bar at happy hour (or any other time) has several components: Do you like the atmosphere of the place? Are you spending time with people whose company you enjoy? Does the environment suit your mood at the time? Do they serve the beer you like? Does the beer meet your price points? If you don’t want beer, do they have something else you’re interested in? Do you have any other criteria that are specific to your personal perception of quality and value?
The answers to these questions define your personal quality attributes, against which you set your expectations and judge your experiences. And there is a difference in how you perceive quality, and how you perceive value (according to Mitra, 2002):
Perceived quality happens before you buy, adopt, or experience something.
Perceived value depends on how well the product, service or experience meets your expectations after you buy, adopt or experience it.
Perceived quality and perceived value are moderated by your expectations. Your expectations can (and often do!) change after you buy, adopt or experience something. Perceived value is NOT invariant, nor is it independent – your perception of value can change after you buy, adopt or experience similar products or participate in similar activities, because then you have a more rich basis for comparison.
Andrew Jenner reviewed seven venues. I’ll review them too, based on my experiences and in light of the perceived quality <-> expectations <-> perceived value chain, plus one more that I have to throw in.
1. Clementine Cafe. This one’s really easy… because I’ve never been there. I have no pre-set expectations beyond what I’ve experienced in other venues in this locale. Andrew notes that this place has a “good beer for $3” price midpoint. I can deal with that, but it wouldn’t (on its own) sway me to try this place, unless my friends and colleagues were going there and I wanted to spend time with them.
2. Dave’s Downtown Taverna. They have really (really) cheap, low-quality beer, and reasonably priced high-quality beer on draft. Meets all of my basic expectations. But what I really like about this place are the little blue lights above the tables, the level of lighting, the cool spiral staircase in the corner, and the fact that sitting upstairs reminds me of being in the Bayou in DC before it closed. I have a good emotional anchor that influences my appreciation for this place. Even if the beer was twice as expensive, I’d go there just for the good feeling… which completely enhances my perception of the value of this place.
3. Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint. Andrew’s review skipped this place, because it was so crowded he couldn’t get in. The first time I went there, it was equally crowded – and I didn’t really like it, so I left. Why? Because I have nerve damage in one of my ears, and for some reason, there’s interference in the front of the place from the loud music and it was like nails on a chalkboard – and because one of my expectations was to hang out and talk to a few people, I couldn’t actually accomplish this there. But fast forward a few months, and now I really enjoy this place. They have an otherworldly selection of beers and tons of good imports. I’ve discovered a couple of new ones, so they have expanded my world view on beer. And later at night, when you’ve already talked to your people and you just want to go drink more beer and listen to heavy, edgy music, there is no comparable place in the town to achieve the same kind of mood. This place, to me, really feels like a Summit County, CO bar (another good emotional anchor for me). And now that I’ve reset my expectations to sit in the back (where the noise interference isn’t as pronounced) and to lip read (so I can understand what people around me are saying) I really enjoy it here.
4. Cuchi Guido’s. Never been there. Andrew wasn’t impressed by their slow service or challenged ambiance. (If there’s a process improvement opportunity here, I’ll have to go check the place out sometime.)
5. Cally’s. I’ve been there once, and they only had four beers on tap. One of my key expectations is that a place has a good selection, so perceived quality (as I walked in) took a hit. The place feels like an Applebee’s, and I typically like my bars to have some sort of unique characteristic that makes them interesting to look at while you’re drinking. None… perceived quality takes another hit. The beer was more expensive than any of the other places in town, and wasn’t particularly good. Perceived value takes a hit. As a result, this place is not on my short list (but might be the perfect venue for someone whose expectations are different).
6. Artful Dodger. I think this is the first (or second) bar I ever went to in Harrisonburg… on a Monday night. Quiet, laid back, and their very unique beers change a lot (add one on my perceived quality rating). They have a funky pricing schedule (which Andrew also noted) that makes your tabs always come out to even numbers (add one to perceived quailty for “cool” factor, as well as helping you add things when you’re signing the tab after multiple beers). Even though I don’t know tons of people around town, I’m finding that I can run into people I know or recognize here pretty readily (that’s one of my “nice to haves” on the expectations list). Fast forward to Fridays, when you get to see this place in its full Jekyll and Hyde best. Loud, unorthodox, and an extremely diverse crowd (I especially liked the girl in the full-suit alien costume last week). Reminds me of my crazy high school where folks like Adam Majewski used to wear full-suit astronaut uniforms to class. What a great way to open your mind. Perceived value on Fridays is, based on my expectations, now through the roof.
7. Local Chop & Grill House. Never been there, but Andrew’s post sets an expectation for me: really cheap, good beer. The name of the place doesn’t really stir me. It says “we want to be like Applebee’s” – so to me, that’s one step down in terms of perceived quality. Without any prodding, the promise of high-quality, cheap beer will not get me in here.
8. Chili’s. (Yes, I know Andrew didn’t review Chili’s, but I’m compelled to). But they have decent, high-quality beer on tap, it’s so inexpensive (during Happy Hour) you almost don’t notice it on your tab, and I’m always here with people who are fun and whose company I really enjoy. The bartender, Camille, is really great. I really don’t care that the ambiance is so nominal. High perceived value, based on my set of expectations, and moderated by good-experience-upon-good-experience.
The bottom line:Value is heavily mediated by your expectations, your prior experiences which influence your evolving expectations, and the quality attributes that YOU personally attach to your “customer experience”. This means you can’t just rely on one person’s reviews to see whether you will like a product, service, or experience yourself… you have to have the experience and then make your evaluation.