Angie's List charges users for what other review sites provide free, with the suggestion that its reviews are thereby more reliable. I've found however that there's no reason to believe that its reviews are superior in any way. Furthermore, to participate you have to accept a membership agreement that can have huge negative consequences for you (see below). And unless you're really careful you'll find you're signed up in perpetuity, paying a new membership fee each year.
Before writing this critique I purchased a membership, studied its materials, and also as a journalist interviewed spokesperson Cheryl Reid by phone.
Angie seeks to minimize ringer listings (reviews by the reviewees) by "proprietary" means which may include cross-checking reviewers' phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, etc. Angie also restricts the number of reviews of a single provider coming from one user—but I couldn't discern much if any protection against a merchant's attempting to buy off bad reviews by offering incentives to the reviewers to withdraw them.
Particularly worrisome is the fact that Angie will without prompting reveal to each service provider the identity of every reviewer of that provider's service. After I discovered this practice I asked a rep about it. The rep boasted that no lawsuit against a reviewer had prevailed. The rep would not say how many lawsuits had been filed. Of course, defending even against lawsuits that fail can be extremely costly, stressful, and time-consuming. "Reputation protection" services have of late become quite popular, and there is a dismaying probability of lawsuits from negative reviews. There's also the fact that a consumer may continue with a problematic provider (like a physician specialist for example) rather than take a chance with a competitor. In such instances the consumer may be reluctant to write a review even partially negative, knowing that the provider will be reading the review.
The likely result of Angie's notification policy is all but the most positive reviews will be self-suppressed or at least toned down, affecting seriously the reliability of Angie's List assessments.
Angie's List does accept advertising from listed providers who wish to offer discounts, and it reportedly solicits that advertising aggressively. Members may choose to search for providers offering these discounts, which purportedly don't otherwise affect the listings or their placement. They're available only from A- and B-rated providers.
(On the other hand, Angie is not at all strict about fulfilling its own membership obligations. The same membership agreement states without qualification that "Monthly and annual memberships include a subscription to the Angie’s List monthly magazine." Yet in over a year I never received a single issue. When I inquired, I was told that magazines aren't sent to those with my class of membership—but that I was free to upgrade.)
Many members will be surprised to learn that they've signed up for membership in perpetuity. Angie's memberships are opt-out, that is, automatically renewed and re-charged, until the member affirmatively resigns. You can opt out of the opt-out when signing up—but if you do, get confirmation in writing!
***Site navigation and customer service***
Site navigation is quirky and sometimes frustrating. Customer service is highly accessible and friendly but too often clueless, and simple inquiries can consume half an hour or more.
I don't advise joining unless (a) you realize that Angie's reviews are skewed to the positive, (b) you're unconcerned about your privacy, (c) you're willing to wade through the extensive and opaque general membership agreement, (d) you're prepared to re-read the changeable agreement before taking any action related to the service, and (e) before joining you've opted out from automatic renewal, and have written confirmation in hand.