Why do they take so much trouble to write reviews, answer questions, rate places and movies they have been to? What drives those scores of faceless good Samaritans of the Internet, when they get nothing in return, wonders Geeta Padmanabhan

When Chandran decided to replace the battery in his well-used HP Presario 1200, he simply logged on to the Internet, found a search engine and keyed in the words. As the pictures and information appeared, the elderly gentleman settled down to scan the reviews. One reviewer wrote, “The XXX model juts out at the back, but actually helps to prop up the laptop. Performance? The battery has a loooooooong life! LOL,” he said. “I quickly placed the order,” said Chandran.

Trying to write a will, lawyer Manisha clicked open her computer, found FAQs, advice on legal aspects, dos and don'ts and the actual format that could be downloaded. The client would have no difficulty following it, she thought. Place questions on grammar, health and other issues and you'll get well-researched, validated answers in Yahoo! and other message boards. Websites like About.com attract upward of 440 million visitors annually, looking for information on Education, Computing, Food and Health. It will be a rare teacher who hasn't picked exercises/tests from its language sections, especially its “English as a second language” pages.

Whether it's choosing holiday destinations, gadgets, movies, restaurants, books or resorts/hotels, our first instinct now is to check out with reviewers on the Internet. (Will there be one about people in the future?) We seek them in the belief their reviews are independent and given freely without vested interest, without restraint. In them we see opinion that is genuine, unadulterated by the need to compromise. Wikipedia is a humongous example of free information, as is open-source software and the Linux group that willingly updates it and answers SOSs. What would you say about Peter Griffin, Mumbai, who runs Caferati, the brilliant resource for writers (zigzackly.blogspot.com/)? Or Charu Shah who has painstakingly put together a list of vets in major Indian cities — with addresses and contacts? “Anything to help animals,” she says.

Think. These faceless do-gooders of the Internet don't just help, they empower us by sharing, editing and ideating freely on the net. Why do they sit up, possibly till late at night or early in the morning, writing reviews, answering questions, rating places and movies they have been to? What drives them to do good, when they get nothing in return?

“The Internet is possibly the most open, democratic medium the world's ever seen,” said Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan, the brain behind Chennai photo-walks. “It caters to almost every taste and, well, distaste. Good things happen online because information shared over the Internet can reach a whole lot more people than originally intended, it makes getting support and feedback, global and instant.”

People also share information in times of distress or calamity, as they did during the 2004 tsunami, and during the 2005-2006 floods in Mumbai and Chennai, he pointed out. The Internet makes “good Samaritans” of people because it is anonymous, and caters to people’s desire to express their opinion. “How else would you have thousands of people willing to share their views about products that might not work well, or products that go above their call? Or people willing to donate money to artists and photographers, people who develop apps that make life easier for us?”

In a survey, Keller Fay Research concluded that reviewers are motivated by goodwill and positive sentiment. Fully 90 per cent write reviews to help others make better buying decisions, 70+ per cent want to help companies improve their products, 79 per cent write reviews as a way to thank companies for their products and services. Did you notice some 87 per cent of the reviews are generally positive in tone? That's because people believe they help others more by sharing information on products they loved. According to an infographic from DemandForce.com, over 90 per cent of people write reviews simply to help other consumers make informed decisions before spending money. Some of course, do it for fun. “When I watch a great movie, I make sure I leave positive feedback and if I receive poor service when out to eat, I'm sure to write an honest review about that restaurant,” said one reviewer.

It is comforting to know people care about their fellow consumers. Many may see posting reviews as a way of giving back to the world, as a way to reward firms, resorts and restaurants that have done right by them, or let companies know how they could make better decisions about their products and services. Reviews could be the deciding factor in where they choose to take their business.

But then, it may not all be altruism. Maybe we write reviews, teach the virtual world how to do things, rant about happenings, warn of places that disappointed us, because we love to talk. We are opinionated, and find this the uninterrupted way to get our opinions heard.