Important questions about community engagement

8:14 a.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Giftogab raised some important questions in Rick's farewell thread. I didn't want to sidetrack that thread with my lengthy reply, but she hit on several topics here that are really important to the lifeblood of this community. All are things that we take very seriously, and spend a lot of time thinking about and working on.

In this post I'll try to explain my perspective on these issues, and lay out some of the big questions that Alicia, Seth and I have been thinking about. We would love to hear thoughts from all corners of the community on these issues. Consider this thread an open brainstorming session.

Member turnover

Losing valued members is always hard. We would all like for good people to stick around.

Unfortunately, turnover is normal in any community, real or virtual. It's been happening here since day one. At some point each of us will pay our last visit to Trailspace (though hopefully that doesn't come too soon). People move on for a wide variety of reasons, often for reasons far removed from the day--to-day goings on here. Sometimes with a bang, more often just gradually moving on to other things. Old friends head out, and new ones arrive.

One of our goals is to make Trailspace a comfortable and engaging place where people do want to return and remain engaged. If valued members of the community are leaving because of things that we're doing (or not doing) we want to know.

Are there specific things about Trailspace that might be driving good people away, that might be leading to higher turnover than necessary? What are they? How do you think they should change?

Looking at it from a different perspective, what sorts of new things could we be doing to keep knowledgable, experienced people more engaged in the community? In a nutshell, how do we keep good people around?

New members

As some members inevitably leave the community, it's vital that new voices join the conversation, fill gaps in our collective experience, and provide new and diverse points of view. Of the 2,500+ members who have posted a review or a message in the forums this year, only 5 were also active during our first year, 2001. All of us were new here at some point, and without a constant influx of new voices, Trailspace would be an empty and dull place indeed.

Attracting new members and encouraging them to participate in the community is probably the central challenge facing Trailspace today. For many years we were blessed with lots of visitors from Google. Many who found Trailspace through their searches decided to stay and participate, keeping the community growing sustainably for many years.

That changed in early 2011, when Google made a change to their system of ranking search results. That update (known as "Panda") cut deeply into the number of people visiting Trailspace. With fewer people visiting the site, fewer became members, and fewer still participated in the community. For much of 2011, and early 2012, new member participation plummeted, and we're still feeling the effects today.

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Getting qualified people onto the site is the first step in finding new members, tomorrow's old friends. It's a big challenge.

What can we, as a community, do that will attract good, new people to Trailspace? How do we spread the word that Trailspace is a great resource for finding and sharing great outdoor gear and experiences? How can we get more people here reading the reviews and forums?

Contests

The number of people finding Trailspace through Google is still far below its pre-2011 levels, but we've tried a number of approaches to get those visitors involved and active in the community. Among the most successful approaches has been the review contests. Since we started running them regularly in mid-2012, the contests have, in fits and spurts, increased participation significantly. Not only is participation up among new members, but also among people who have been part of the community for years.

Trailspace needs a healthy mix of new community members and veterans to survive. While the contests have been successful, we're still barely holding even. The number of active new members is just enough to make up for those who leave the community. I am not entirely at ease with the contest concept -- I'd much rather that people were writing reviews out of the pure goodness of their hearts. But at this point the contests are, frankly, fairly critical to the site's survival.

I'd welcome alternatives. What other things can we do to encourage those who are already visiting to share their own reviews, or to ask and answer questions in the forums? How do we reach out to qualified people, welcome them into the community, and encourage their participation?

Review quality

I'll just say it: there are reviews on this site that make me cringe. Short, poorly-written, barely-informative reviews. There are also masterpieces: words, photos, videos, and experiences spilling off the page. And everything in between.

We want Trailspace to be a useful resource for finding and sharing gear. Lousy reviews aren't very useful, and review quality is a topic we take very seriously. In the last couple years, we've taken a number of steps to encourage higher-quality reviews, including additional form fields -- summary, pros, cons -- and category-specific tips built into the review form. Very recently we started encouraging new members to register using their real names and link their Trailspace accounts to their social media accounts, to improve transparency and accountability.

When we started running the write-a-review contests, I was very concerned that we would attract a large number of low-quality submissions. However, average review quality has actually gone *up* significantly since we started doing contests. While we still see the occasional one-liner review, they're submitted in much smaller proportion than ever before. By both of our internal measures of review quality, the reviews written in 2013 are the best in the 12-year history of Trailspace.

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Quality, trust, and authenticity are tough areas to police, and while I'm sure that we don't catch everything, we are trying. Among other measures, Alicia reads every review that is submitted; she and Seth regularly follow up on reviews of dubious origin. The moderators are empowered to delete spam and disable spam accounts. Over the years we've caught and removed nearly 3,000 submissions (about 10% of the total submitted) that violated the Community Rules or Review Rules.

There are certainly some that have slipped through, and I'm sure that with your help we can do better. If any member has concerns about a review, there are a number of ways to take action: to provide feedback on a short, confusing, or poorly-written review, you can post a comment for the author, downvote the review, and/or upvote other reviews of the same product. For more serious concerns -- if a review violates the Community Rules or Review Rules -- you can always contact a moderator or staff member with your concerns and we will take appropriate action.

How can we better identify reviews that may be deceptive or manipulative in nature? How do we educate and encourage members, new and old, to share their experiences in positive, authentic, and helpful ways? What sorts of things do you think we could do to keep the quality high, while still making it reasonably easy for new members to participate?


Okay, I've gone on longer than I probably should have here. I hope this is a reasonable overview of where our internal thinking stands. I'd love to hear your ideas for addressing these important questions. With your help, I'm sure we can make Trailspace even better for all.

Thanks
-Dave

10:00 a.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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I'll give some feedback from a newbie perspective.

I've been lurking on TS for over year as I find the gear reviews very helpful.  I finally registered as a member last month intending to share in the forums and perhaps write a gear review or two.

As I was contemplating submitting my review of the Caldera Cone alcohol stove, a TS member told me about a recent experience with one of their gear reviews -- "it was ripped to shreds in the most unkind way" and "veteran TS members ganged up on me"..... to paraphrase. Yikes.

Well, that certainly gave me pause and I decided not to submit my review.  I mean, who needs that kind of negative experience, right?

And I think therein lies the conundrum for TS:  how to attract more folks to -- hopefully -- write gear reviews, without dissuading those who may attempt to do so, yet fall short in the measure of "quality" regarding their review.

Again, I enjoy TS.  It's definitely a place I visit when doing research about any gear I'm interested in and may purchase.  The forums offer some tremendous advice, insights and lessons learned for everyone -- novice to veteran backpacker. 

So, I'll definitely hang around.

10:03 a.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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A whole lot of good stuff here Dave. Thank you for taking time to bring us in to this process. When I came to trailspace, it was post-panda. I did not come here for the reviews, but to get some questions answered. People jumped in and helped in huge ways I never expected. I stayed, working my way through that problem and learning more and more about gear I would need etc. and building friendships. As I got more familiar with the gear review side of the site, i was so impressed with the actual quality of the reviews that I just stopped reading reviews on other sites. I also started telling all my friends about this site. I appreciate the tough problems you face in making a business of your site. But in an effort to get your numbers up, i think you have, at the same time wounded the very thing that makes your site special. If you lose that, other tan community, there will not be a reason for me not to just read the reviews that are on the site where I buy my gear. That is the absolute quality of the gear review. If BillS or Rick or Any others of the site review, i have come to know that it will be thoroughly tested, well thought out and written. Because of that I tell people "read reviews on TS. Those guys live in the gear and you will get the real deal." But these contests have, among other things, brought down the average quality. Just having a review isn't at all valuable. Just getting numbers doesn't make it a better review site. case in point the recen contest. I know it was a drawing, but because I have made my game a better one in the review department, i wasn't going to write a bunch of reviews that were no more than "Lobe my new 'biner and bought three in different colors." Just to win. I crafted two reviews and took my chances. I kinda felt like a dummy when it appeared I cared more about the quality of the review and how that reflected on TS than the owners. Prizes should go to reviews that include all of the elements needed in a good review. And winners for drawings should be vetted before announced.

Members of long standing will come and go. But if they are going because they are being marginalized then it isn't just moving on it is hurtful.

I guess my advise on both fronts is this: instead of working so hard to get a stack of worthless reviews, work hard to get few (yet more than now) well written quality reviews by engaged members.  I say all this because I think you could make TS the gold standard for gear review site. Thank you for listening.

10:14 a.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Thank you Earth Pig, and welcome to Trailspace! I'm looking forward to reading your Caldera Cone review! You bring up a few very important, related points:

without dissuading those who may attempt to do so, yet fall short in the measure of "quality" regarding their review.

Review quality grows with time and experience. My first reviews were....not great. They've gotten better over time. Welcoming inexperienced new members, and helping them write better reviews and ask better questions is key in maintaining a high quality of reviews overall.

TS member told me about a recent experience with one of their gear reviews -- "it was ripped to shreds in the most unkind way"

We take our Community Rules and Guidelines seriously, especially the first:

1. Treat others with respect.
Listen to others’ points of view, opinions, and experiences. Refrain from rushing to judgment of any Trailspace community member or guest poster.

If anyone is treated in a way that violates our Community Rules and Guidelines they can feel comfortable contacting me or any of our Forum Moderators.

11:06 a.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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I guess we have to accept the fact that change is part of life. People come and go and as Rick says, if it's not fun anymore, why bother? 

I first came to Trailspace for the its credibility. As we all know, many equipment websites are cluttered with reviews that are flawed for some reason. I strongly believe that as Trailspace reviewers we have a responsibility to present only real, factual information - if we fail to do so, readers could buy the wrong equipment and run into trouble. 

My pet peeves are the ones that fit into the 'I just bought it and it looks really cool' category. In my opinion, the most important aspect of a review is not that it necessarily have photos or a lot of technical information (easily cribbed from the internet), but that it reflects real-world usage under a variety of circumstances. Anyone can buy a piece of new gear, try it out in their backyard, and post a review, but most of the time that's not good enough. 

What I do need to know is whether the tent started leaking after a week on the trail in heavy rain, or that the jacket won't keep me warm below freezing in spite of its rating. I need to know whether to bring extra batteries for the headlamp because it sucks power, or whether the new boots might fall apart 50 miles from nowhere. 

Right now, it looks like a lot of the promotional programs (contests, reviewer of the month) are based not on accuracy but on volume. A recent contest winner, with no other history on the website, posted five mediocre reviews and won an expensive piece of gear in a random drawing. Other members have posted large numbers of 'just out of the box' reviews and won gift packages.

While this will attract more reviews, I think this will also cost Trailspace a lot of credibility. As Karen points out, more experienced people may no longer want their name associated with the site if the most visible people are obviously inexperienced or are posting inadequate reviews.

One solution to that particular problem would be to set a minimum standard for contest reviews, such as:

  • Listing pros and cons (already there)
  • Detailing circumstances and time of actual usage on the trail
  • Saying something about reviewer's experience and skills
  • Subject to vetting for technical accuracy

These are already points that appear in Review Corps postings, but IMHO they should be applied to contest reviews as well. I don't think prizes should be awarded to people who write inaccurate reviews of inadequately tested equipment. 

The 'Featured Reviews' section already lets us select the better ones, so it's not necessary to eliminate the one-liners or the poorly-written reviews. I don't agree with rewarding them with prizes, though.  

The same kind of rules could be applied to forum posts - maybe a minimum of five reviews before posting? That would hopefully raise the standard of the conversations a bit. I'm not sure about that, though. I would hope that the moderators would take care of any problems there.

Rick landed pretty good on a poster who seems far more troll like than member.

It might not be appropriate for a moderator to censure a member on a public forum thread, but having a discussion by private message might work instead. 

Again, just my two bits. 

11:38 a.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Maybe a min number if posts before starting a gear thread outside beginner ir maybe a new member caragory that is the first place one can start a thread. Just brain storming..

12:22 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Earth Pig, I'm very sorry to hear about your experience. I hope you and your friend will both share reviews on Trailspace. We aim to make Trailspace an open, inclusive outdoor community.

As an FYI, we do have standards for contest winners and we redraw randomly if the first review does not meet them. Namely they are:

  • Must be a registered member
  • Off-topic reviews will be disqualified.
  • Incomplete reviews and reviews less than 150 words may be disqualified at our discretion.

However, I'm open to hearing other criteria. Peter has some good ideas above.

Out of curiosity I just looked back at the past contest winners to see if they were complete (summary, pros, cons, text) and found they all were. 

It might be useful to look at the winning reviews for this discussion, so if you're curious, here are the winning reviews for the past seven contests:

I think I have the dubious distinction of being the only person to have read every review on Trailspace at least once, dating back to reviews from the late-90s. Dave gave some quantitative info above, but in my own editing experience I've seen the overall review quality rise over and over again and the bar continues to be raised. I think that's something to celebrate.

We're all open to suggestions and comments.  If anyone else has others, please share.

1:00 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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If you guys really want to be in things like the top 7 review sites, then it cannot be acceptable for any first time reviewer to submit 5 reviews that read well to the inexperienced user but contain errors. I am glad you redraw when there are problems with a review. It isn't even about the prize it is about the promotion of reviews like that and its effect on the reader and most importantly the user. If, as Peter talked about on the other site where he got very bad advice regarding taking a blind client on a hike....it can be dangerous. I think it was Peter. Forgive me if I am wrong.

1:10 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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After the whole Esbit Stove scandal of 2013, I learned my lesson.

Was it trail-tested? No. 

I admitted it. I apologized. I even had them pull the review. ASAP, at that.

Beyond that, I went back and pulled reviews written for anything that didn't make it out on the trail AND updated other reviews with notes from more recent trips and their performance on them.

I'd like to think I've since made-up for that incident.

If any of you've noticed, I haven't published a review in a long while. I'm waiting until I come back from my next trip (Shawnee Natl Forest - going there with Joseph (current Reviewer of the Month), G00SE, and pillowthread) and when I come home, I'll have my pictures and performance notes to share with y'all.

It's a learning process, all of it. Backpacking in general, and even writing reviews, and beyond that, how one functions and interacts here on TS. I don't necessarily think adding rules will help, but I do think keeping an open conversation is a proactive and positive way of rectifying all this.

For what it's worth, I didn't join TS nor did I write reviews for any sort of prize or recognition. I did it because I enjoy outdoor gear and - more importantly - being a member of this community. Sure, we've our own writing styles, and sure, we'll never all agree on something 100% - and that's okay. If you think differently on an item? Comment. Write a review of your own. Take what you disagree with, and express your thoughts in a positive way.

We're all here to help another out and support another, and I've met some real quality people on TS. It pains me to see one of them go.

1:28 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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For what it's worth, HRH, I appreciate your enthusiasm and your willingness to learn. While some of your earlier reviews didn't meet the criteria I just posted, I never doubted your enthusiasm or your good intentions. 

I look forward to seeing your upcoming reviews from your next trip. 

1:45 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks, Peter - I'll take the respect of my peers, any day, over a prize package. 

Always learning, and always updating what I've written when there are things to add or opinions that change. I'll go and take a look back at my earlier work to see if there are things I can add from my experiences.

And sometimes we just forget - if you're curious about something, ask. Please leave a comment, or send a message. The biggest compliment you can get if being told you nailed a review and someone has had the same experiences, or someone is happy with gear they bought after they read your review. That's the real prize, there.

Next trip isn't an overnight - we're out in the woods for three days. And we're making camp in the backcountry. I'm excited to finally let me gear "stretch its legs" and really do what it was designed to do.

I guess what it comes down to is asking yourself what you can do for someone else, or do for the community. Gear reviews aren't a selfish thing, and like Peter has said, we write things other people rely and depend on. That importance and focus should be kept in mind.

2:29 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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This is a great conversation! We're always looking for ways to increase the quality of reviews, and there are some real gems of ideas in here.  Balancing the importance of keeping it easy and relatively hassle-free to submit reviews with the importance of having great reviews is a tough challenge. With such a great community - I'm sure it's a challenge we're up for. Keep the good ideas coming!

6:04 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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These are all great comments. Certainly, as Peter said, change is natural. People come and go. I don't post many reviews. I don't have a lot of time to write a thorough review on a product I have lived with for at least a year, and often longer. I also tend not to review items that may be good products, but for one reason or another, I just don't like. I want to know the product and it's advantages and disadvantages on an intimate basis. As with the other comments, gear reviews that are tested in the back yard or "I just bought it and this is what I like" reviews may have the best intentions, but in those cases, the gear has not been thoroughly tested in a variety of conditions. I have had my Nemo Morpho 1P for two years and have used it occasionally in conditions it wasn't designed for, just to discover some weaknesses. At the same time, I think it important to point out, that as someone who has been in outdoors, hiking, climbing and canoeing for fifty years, my depth of experience may actually be a flaw. No matter how hard I might try, I cannot be the fresh eyed newbie using a piece of gear for the first time and approaching it that way. I have a half dozen stoves and have used everything from canister stoves, white gas and kero burners for fifty years, so I can't honestly bring a beginner's eyes to a new stove. So I believe that reviews by newbie's as a first experience are important.

9:17 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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A word on the contests: I've lurked on TS for years. Every piece of equipment I own was first looked up here for feedback. The January contest got me to write a few reviews. After I won, I felt a sense of obligation to give back to TS. From there, it snowballed into checking out the forums a few times a day.

Peter1955 said:
My pet peeves are the ones that fit into the 'I just bought it and it looks really cool' category. In my opinion, the most important aspect of a review is not that it necessarily have photos or a lot of technical information (easily cribbed from the internet), but that it reflects real-world usage under a variety of circumstances. Anyone can buy a piece of new gear, try it out in their backyard, and post a review, but most of the time that's not good enough.

For the most part I agree with this. I have 2 reviews that I stand by: Right out of the box I could see the ENO Ember was horribly made. If it won't work in my garage, it's not going onto the trail with me. The SteriPen Journey stopped working on day 2 of a 6 day trip. It definitely warranted a negative review. (And I have since found a number of people who have had the same problems, but these reviews are not showing up on retail sites--or are being taken off the sites. Why???)

Here are some thoughts:

Don't allow a review post to publish without all fields being filled in.

Don't allow a review post to publish without a minimum word count.

Add a couple of fields: "How long have you owned this item?" "How many trail days have you used this item?"

Could a raw review be banked in a user's account? Imagine I write a review on something I've only used twice. If the number is too low, you could have a pop-up that reads, "Oops! It looks like this item isn't ready to be fully reviewed yet. We will save your review under your profile until you've used it a few more times. You'll be able to edit it before it is published to the site."

I still feel the Review Rep program needs some tweaking. It needs to reflect the quality of reviews more than the number of reviews.

Should a "Killer Review" be based solely on number of votes? Alicia reads every review. Could she assign Killer Review status to any review worthy of it?

On that topic, if TS staff were to determine what is a Killer Review, could contest entries only include Killer Reviews? It would boost not only the number of reviews, but the quality.

On marketing: The parent organization I work for doesn't even bother with Google anymore. Social Media is the marketing department's focus. I once won a t-shirt from Campmor in a FaceBook contest that required you to get a bunch of your friends to "Like" their page and then vote for your photo.

Sierra Trading Post is currently running a contest. You're entered once by posting something on their page. You get a second entry if you share the contest on your page.

What about advertising in magazines? I've noticed JacksRBetter advertise, and they're a small cottage industry.

9:59 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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#$%^!!!

Goose, dude - nailed it on the head.

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to reviews is the simple fact you can't save anything as a work-in-progress. Either you lose it completely, or you're to publish something that very well may be premature. This would be my #1 request, if for no other person than myself, even. If anyone else thinks it would help them, please, be sure to speak up.

Totally agree with you and think it's totally fair to ask how long the item's been used. Heck, which seasons it's been used in, and - just for the sake of being comprehensive - any notable places it's been used in or major hikes it's been used on.

Can it survive an overnight? Well, that's cool.

But if one can say it survived a thru-hike on the AT? Puts it into a higher league entirely.

My thoughts:

Don't fill a box in, review doesn't get saved and/or published. 

Don't award points for doing the basics. You should have at least one pro, one con, one picture, etc etc.

Don't award points that would encourage posting words or images for the sake of posting them. A point awarded for a picture of the stuff sack's cinch isn't really going to make or break a purchasing decision.

Award points/higher points for up-votes. After all, if votes determined killer reviews, and killer reviews determined contest winners, this would be the simplest way of making it a democratic process the community would have a voice in.

At the same time, negative votes aren't helpful - either someone gives it a positive vote, or doesn't get a vote at all. I feel this is one of the things that could incite animosity and negativity within the community. Naturally, the better reviews will have a higher number of votes. 

Neither are negative comments - perhaps it'd be better if TS could moderate these things BEFORE they get published. The forum, I know, stays closer to real time and can't be so easily censored. But, by eliminating down-votes, and by censoring negative comments, I feel we'd avoid a lot of conflict before it even happened.

Honestly, you can keep the reviewer rep points and contest wins. I write because I enjoy writing things that help people. I actually went ahead this afternoon and deleted out reviews that weren't worthy.

I think, however, if we found a more collaborative way to do these things, we'd all benefit. Those're my thoughts. You're onto something, Goose. Very much in agreement with ya.

10:21 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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G00SE said:

Right out of the box I could see the ENO Ember was horribly made. If it won't work in my garage, it's not going onto the trail with me. The SteriPen Journey stopped working on day 2 of a 6 day trip. It definitely warranted a negative review. 

I think we're in agreement. A review of a piece of equipment that immediately fails is sometimes more important than just another positive review. In that case, it's the 'exception that proves the rule'. 

I was more concerned with the frivolous or premature reviews that wind up misleading readers. 

Some really good ideas, here. 

10:28 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Earth Pig said:

As I was contemplating submitting my review of the Caldera Cone alcohol stove, a TS member told me about a recent experience with one of their gear reviews -- "it was ripped to shreds in the most unkind way" and "veteran TS members ganged up on me"..... to paraphrase. Yikes.

Well, that certainly gave me pause and I decided not to submit my review.  I mean, who needs that kind of negative experience, right?

I wonder how common Earth Pig's situation is.  If it's a regular occurrence, once way to mitigate it could be for the site to have a "Draft Reviews" forum (or a "submit draft review for feedback" function).  Anyone (any registered user) could post to it, but only Trailspace Gear Review Corps (and of course Staff) could read posts and comment.  None of these individuals would "rip the review to shreds", but instead would provide useful feedback (viewable only by the poster).

This might not fully solve the issue (once the review is posted to the public, those who disagree still might flame about it).  But at least it would give the reviewer a chance to vet it first, so there would be a chance to catch any obvious "flame bait" the reviewer might have unintentionally included.

I guess this would require some coding (sorry Dave :) but it would provide a safe venue for vetting new reviews for those unsure of whether the community at large would consider their reviews "good enough".

11:01 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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HornRimmedHiker said:

And sometimes we just forget - if you're curious about something, ask. Please leave a comment, or send a message. The biggest compliment you can get if being told you nailed a review and someone has had the same experiences, or someone is happy with gear they bought after they read your review. That's the real prize, there.

HRH said something here that triggered a thought.  The thought has to do with enhancing Reviewer Rep scoring (or as I think of it, "reviewer cred" :).

How about a way to tag a review, "This review influenced my decision to purchase this item".  +5 Reviewer Cred.  And another tag for "This review influenced my decision to purchase this item and I'm happy with my purchase".  +10 Reviewer Cred.  Obviously more concise wording would be required :).

I've already made two significant gear purchases which were directly influenced by reviews written by TSGRC members.  Presumably the reviews have influenced others too.

This data would be very interesting to companies contemplating providing gear for reviews.

Hmmm maybe not a good idea as it might encourage people to write glossy reviews when they aren't warranted.  Thoughts?

11:57 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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No, think you're on the right track, Bill.

Better points go toward purchasing decisions and satisfied customers than toward simple things like pros and cons. 

A person would have to make a considerable effort to write glossy enough a review to con someone into buying something unsatisfactory - again, another opportunity for someone else to comment with their differing opinion, or the springboard for another review with another opinion on the matter.

If someone else came along with a more honest, more informative review - like I've said - naturally, the votes would turn toward them instead.

Giving TSGRC members more power or say than average members would only work if a system were in place for promotion. I know a loose set of rules in in place when it comes to TSGRC invitations, but I feel if we're to be more concrete defining good reviews, we ought to address this as well. 

This, too, would be a nice way to feature the TSGRC: pick a different member and give them a feature each month, demonstrating why they were chosen and what they bring to the table. What was their favorite item to test? Least favorite? Etc. New members could be announced in the same fashion, as well. It gives it a more public presence and people get a chance to know another. It's easy to say something offensive to a stranger you know nothing about - it's not when you know something about them, especially when you know they're a valuable, liked, and lauded member.

This way we're more than a bunch of trail-named-thumbnails on a chat forum. We start to know the people we're talking with.

1:17 a.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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What a great thread…and so vital to the community too…certainly worth some discussion. I think there are some great ideas presented here…but overall I’m with Alicia…I think the reviews on TS are of surprisingly good quality. The reviews I have read are often deeply personal…I can almost feel the affection or animosity…more often than not they are grounded in personal experiences…I love it! At the same time…you can only be on guard for false reviews…policing too heavily could make the review process too burdensome or scare off the easily discouraged…and poor reviews are ignored easily enough (like Peter I chuckle at the review “I just got this…its awesome”).

Now to the contest prizes! Did it increase participation?…great! The fact that people sometimes need a little motivation in a world where we are all constantly assessing the economic return of one action over another is not necessarily a bad thing…its just a reflection of our shared reality. For example…I might really want to post a review I have open on my desktop…but it needs a little more tweaking…but I’m tired…but I could win a prize if I post it by such and such time…okay I better finish it tonight! In this example…which I believe is very likely…the prize acted as a catalyst not a polluter to the process. More importantly (as Goose said)…winning a prize is a perfect example of how to get people invested in the community…and a mechanism for illustrating the kind of member the community values (all communities do this…just not always with such great prizes).

8:32 a.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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The discussion above about the review aspect of the site is full of brilliance, and I can't think of anything to add to it.

About the forum (and this thread is a shining example): part of me would like to see more activity, because the people who aren't here are missing out big time. It's not just the experience and knowledge, but also the wisdom, generosity, humour, and spirit of so many members.

The redesign of the front page does sort of downplay the forum. I have to scroll down a couple of screens to see the 'Popular Discussions' box, otherwise there's just that tiny "Blog/Forums/People" line. I think a person could probably visit and read reviews without really noticing the forum at all.

On the other hand, perhaps much of what's so good about this particular online community comes from this, let's say, intimacy. People get to know each other, and with that comes interest, concern and respect. Friendship. I think the forum threads here have a rare quality. Many posts are about so much more than gear.

So while maybe we could put the core members of this forum in one half of the pub, wouldn't that be a great night out? First round's on me. :)

9:03 a.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Islandess is right. TS forums are not nearly as busy as Hammockforums.net or Whiteblaze.com. This surprises me, as TS has a wider topic than just hammocks or the AT.

What about tying gear reviews into the forum? What if the review was considered the start of a new thread? You could still look up an item and see all the reviews, But each review would start a thread. Currently, you can comment on a review, but it feels awkward, like anything I say is an intrusion on creativity.

Also, yesterday someone messaged me regarding a thread. The thread was already closed, and he had just found it. He wanted to post a few questions, but settled for the private message. Could we leave forum threads open longer? I know the annoyance of someone resurrecting a 5yo zombie thread, but I think a full 12 months is reasonable.

I've got more...but gotta get to work.

10:58 a.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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There are so many different ideas at play here, not sure where to start....

Review quality- it seems as if this and new members must have inverse proportions. I'll be the first to admit my first three or four reviews were terrible. It takes some time to find your writing style and to be able to convey your thoughts in a somewhat organized manner. However reading other RC reviews, among others, helps provide a groundwork. I remember seeing an incredible well done video review by Arson and being inspired to try my own.....turns out I'm a blundering fool on video. Basically what I'm trying to get at is, if you do want lots of new reviews and members then there is going to be a slight, and understandable, decline on the overall review quality on the side. As it is now I think the site does a good job of laying out, and helping guide you through the basic steps of a solid review. Taking that next step to a killer review? I think the old saying "you can lead a horse to a pond, but you can't make him drink" applies here. They are a lot of work, killer reviews, and to put a proper amount of time into the testing and vetting a product requires commitment.

Long time members- As Dave said member turnover is natural. Some people will just grow away naturally, the issue to address, I believe, is when the others feel forced away. When I began there was a solid group of veteran members who were knowledgable and inviting. For the most part they are still here, although it seems less frequently. They set a lead by example precendent and most times disagreement were resolved peacefully. However now, with the influx of new members, many feel the need to puff their chest and degrade others for some sense of superiority.

Contests- I'm not quite sure what the problem is, let alone how to solve it. I assume people are upset that subpar reviews are written solely for entry? If so, I do like the idea of a killer review only being entered. All that is required is a little write up and a pic or two. Shouldn't be too much to ask for the chance of winning, what is becoming, hundreds of dollars worth of prizes. Dave, Alicia and Seth, I assume, read almost all reviews already so theirs three up votes if it's a quality review, shouldn't be too hard to get a couple more from other members.

Just my two cents!....

12:16 p.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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 "...could contest entries only include Killer Reviews? It would boost not only the number of reviews, but the quality."

I like this idea. We'd still be rewarding the people who take the time to write something really comprehensive, and eliminating the ones that are incomplete or inadequate. 

To prevent the Review Corps people from hogging the prizes (since they know what goes into a good review) it should still be a random drawing, and maybe there could be a rule that you can only win a prize once every few months.

1:09 p.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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FWIW I've been here awhile. I seen people come and go and weve lost a good amount of good people.I'd like to keep the number down.Theres no reason someone should feel like they have to go. Especially if they have a different style of backpacking.That could be traditional or Ultra Light.I think eebryones opinion is valuable.How do we keep them thats the question we all really cant answer.Its hard..

As for content for reviews: I've read some really good reviews without pictures just pure content of the product. Pictures are nice so you can see the item first hand.I dont think their should be a minimum amount of pictures to a review like some have expressed.Alot of backpackers are writeing their reviews from just comeing fresh from off the trail.I look for the ones who used their products on long trails.Cause they have been put through more of a challenge..As for contest's I think an open drawing is fair.I think maybe more word minimum for the contests.As for better Reviews I think if Alicia has time she could break one of the old killer reviews down and show it like an example on how they write one might help.I dont know.Thats just a thought.

2:27 p.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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i'm still learning how to write reviews, but as far as I'm concern I don't want a prize, I would like feedback and valve everyones input.  I was lucky with some of your input to have one killer review and I valve more than any prize is what will make my time on the trail better, longer and safer.    I did follow up with more input for my review after year to maybe help others from not making mistakes like myself.  The gear review is great on this site, but it needs to be a little more about everyones time on the trail.  It could be a 1 mile day hike or AT trip, all feedback is welcome and hints to make my next trip better.  When I came to this site I was looking for a Backpack and choose a lumbar pack.  I got a lot of responds and failed to listen.  I got my second backpack now after learning that you really can't put 15 pounds of gear in a 8 liter lumbar pack.  I go solo a lot on my hikes, but after I clean up I enjoy reading gear reviews, but most of all I like the forum.  I think when posting a review, you should have used what ever gear at least 10 times and maybe more.  Thank you everyone for making my hikes fun.

Mike

2:55 p.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Earth Pig said:

I'll give some feedback from a newbie perspective.

I've been lurking on TS for over year as I find the gear reviews very helpful.  I finally registered as a member last month intending to share in the forums and perhaps write a gear review or two.

As I was contemplating submitting my review of the Caldera Cone alcohol stove, a TS member told me about a recent experience with one of their gear reviews -- "it was ripped to shreds in the most unkind way" and "veteran TS members ganged up on me"..... to paraphrase. Yikes.

Well, that certainly gave me pause and I decided not to submit my review.  I mean, who needs that kind of negative experience, right?

And I think therein lies the conundrum for TS:  how to attract more folks to -- hopefully -- write gear reviews, without dissuading those who may attempt to do so, yet fall short in the measure of "quality" regarding their review.

Again, I enjoy TS.  It's definitely a place I visit when doing research about any gear I'm interested in and may purchase.  The forums offer some tremendous advice, insights and lessons learned for everyone -- novice to veteran backpacker. 

So, I'll definitely hang around.

 I hope you write your review because I would like to see something like this done.I've seen Caldera cones used but I've never really asked the user about them.Really interested in what you have to say..My 2 cents..

 

10:36 p.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter1955 said:

To prevent the Review Corps people from hogging the prizes (since they know what goes into a good review) it should still be a random drawing, and maybe there could be a rule that you can only win a prize once every few months.

 After winning a $500 gift card last January, I honestly hope I'm not being included in any drawings. I think I've met my quota for the year.


Speaking of prizes...what about reserving the really "big" prizes for Killer Reviews (and, again, I think the TS staff should take on the role of labeling those as such), and then having smaller prizes (coffee mugs, 'biners, hats, etc.) for less comprehensive reviews?

11:35 p.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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I'd think it fair for the value of prizes to be proportional to the quality of reviews. 

Pictures I'm torn on. Quite honestly, I think it's the easiest way to verify someone not only owns the product, and not only uses it, but uses it correctly.

If I read a review on a tent, but then see a picture with it pitched incorrectly, it provides some insight into the validity of the review.

I think one original and personal photo per item would be a smart minimum. This doesn't come as a suggestion for contest entries, but for reviews in general. 

Also, it validates the item is seeing actual trail use - unless you're a pro with green screen or Photoshop, it'll be hard to BS that!

9:30 a.m. on September 15, 2013 (EDT)
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I landed here on TS as a refugee from another site that was too negative for me.  They had good information, but the user base seemed purposefully rude at times and rarely positive in spirit.  Perhaps they were happy doing what they do, but it wasn't right for me.  That is the way of the internets, people move on til they land where they want to be.

If you want to drive more traffic I'd suggest promoting the forums as well as the reviews.  I found this site googling for reviews but I come back daily to read the forums. With few exceptions I find what the people here have to say worth my time. I also find it very useful to have some context on a user when I read their reviews.  If I know the sort of trips they take and how they use their gear I get more out of their reviews or take what they say with a grain of salt.

I'd like to add my support to the idea of Killer Reviews being determined by staff/moderators/council of mucketymucks.  This should be a stamp of official approval with standards to be upheld.  If you want to keep KR as is perhaps some other official category can be created for this purpose.  Limiting contests to these reviews should weed out prize hunters quickly.

Also, as much as I hate it, social media is the way to spread the word that you exist.  You may decrease signal to noise but that is where the people are these days.

1:14 p.m. on September 15, 2013 (EDT)
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LoneStranger said:

I also find it very useful to have some context on a user when I read their reviews.  If I know the sort of trips they take and how they use their gear I get more out of their reviews or take what they say with a grain of salt.

 Hammockforums has a great feature. Under each users profile picture, you can list your make of hammock, your tarp, your suspension system, and your location. As well as the date you joined the forum & your number of posts.


TS currently just lists our post and review statuses. What about some fields, like "Primary activity" (car camping, backpacking, canoe/kayak, CAVING), "Self-description" (Paid Professional, Highly Experienced, Moderately Experienced, Novice), and "Average Time Outdoors" (Daily, Weekends, Monthly, Few Times a Year.")

9:09 p.m. on September 15, 2013 (EDT)
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A couple of observations about the topic -


First, some good ideas and feedback here. I was going to stay completely out of the discussion, but some things to think about.

Quality is a hard thing to judge objectively with rigid criteria. To paraphrase someone talking about a very different topic, "I may not be able to define t, but I know it when I see it." Several statements have been mad above about quality going up and going down that contradict one another. Several comments have been made about prize contests.

A bit of a disclaimer - I may not be the best person to comment, as a "Top 10 Reviewer", highest number of posts, possibly the first member of Trailspace after Dave and Alicia, and winner of a drawing (and writer of a review of the prize item).

Here is a table of the 7 recent winners that Alicia gave:


Gear item         Y/N votes      Posts    Gear Reviews    Reviewer Rep

Deuter pack          1                 1 (T)            6                       31

Makalu boot          0                  0                2                       20

Lowa boot             0                  0               1                          4

Coleman tent         2                  1(T)           9                      174

LoweAlpine pack    1                  0               1                         24

Leatherman tool     0                  0               3                         14

Platypus filter         8               4995(T)      21                      1197

The (T) was the "thank you for the prize" post from the drawing winner. I note that 4 of the 7 did not even post a "thanks for the prize". The Y/N votes are the "Helpful y/n" vote of the readers of the reviews that won the drawings. The "posts" is the number of posts the winner made as of the point at which I looked at their profile. "Gear Reviews" is the number of reviews the person wrote. Note that the 6 written by the most recent winner were all done in a single day, while the others were done over some time.  Bojib's 9 reviews were done over 4 months, 2 of them since his prize winner. 

Only 1 of the winning reviews is a "Killer Review", and that reviewer has 12 killer reviews out of his 21 reviews (this is partly because the "Killer Review" designation started after 9 of his reviews had been written). The reviewer also obviously blathers a lot, as attested by his 4995 posts (4996 if we include the current one, plus some blogs he wrote from the ORShow for a few years plus some Articles). Modesty prohibits me from admitting who the perp is. But I will note that only one of the prize winners among the 7 that Alicia listed as "most recent" is a "Top 25" or "Top 10" reviewer. I am not sure, but think the "Top 10" and "Top 25" is based on total number of y/n votes (I am probably wrong, since judging "Top" and "Rep" is a pretty arcane, and maybe byzantine process).

One thing that has been discussed among the Gear Review Corps is this - The GRC members are selected from the writers of the highest quality reviews (judged by some criteria that I have not yet figured out - but it sure works well, considering what I see as quality work, Rick being one of the best of the best reviewers). Their reviews are vetted among the GRC members. Yet, except for a small note that the person is a GRC member, the reviews are not really made prominent. Yes, once you get to the review, you see that the item was provided by the Gear Review Corps. Yes, there is a "Featured" list on the Home page. But nothing that holds up the the GRC reviews as an example to be aimed for. This is not to take away from the "Featured" reviews - these are quality reviews. And this provides an avenue for selecting future members of the Gear Review Corps.

  I do have to disagree with GOOSE's self-description, simply because some people (including a few former TS members) self-describe as "Highly Experienced", but have revealed themselves through their posts to be rank novices with no experience beyond having once read a book, watched Bear or other "survival" TV shows, or (as one person who showed up at my Climbing Instructor course and another who showed up at my winter camping course each declared), will tell you they have recently climbed Everest, hence know everything about climbing, or in the other case, once went to Antarctica and knew everything about winter camping. As several have pointed out in other posts, it doesn't take long reading a person's posts to tell whether they are the "Real Deal" or are just a "poseur".  "I know it when I see it", whether it is the "real deal" or just garbage.    

I provide the stats here to provide food for thought. I have my take on it, but leave it to you the reader to decide what this says.    

9:33 p.m. on September 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Bill S said:

  I do have to disagree with GOOSE's self-description, simply because some people (including a few former TS members) self-describe as "Highly Experienced", but have revealed themselves through their posts to be rank novices with no experience....

 Yeah, I agree there is a risk of deception. And maybe there are other ways to frame that discussion. I'm just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

Pretty sad how few contest winners have posted a public thank you. That's just common courtesy.

8:42 p.m. on September 16, 2013 (EDT)
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G00SE said:

Islandess is right. TS forums are not nearly as busy as Hammockforums.net or Whiteblaze.com. This surprises me, as TS has a wider topic than just hammocks or the AT.

What about tying gear reviews into the forum? What if the review was considered the start of a new thread? You could still look up an item and see all the reviews, But each review would start a thread. Currently, you can comment on a review, but it feels awkward, like anything I say is an intrusion on creativity.

Also, yesterday someone messaged me regarding a thread. The thread was already closed, and he had just found it. He wanted to post a few questions, but settled for the private message. Could we leave forum threads open longer? I know the annoyance of someone resurrecting a 5yo zombie thread, but I think a full 12 months is reasonable.

I've got more...but gotta get to work.

There's a core of 10 faithful bloggers on Whiteblaze who consistanly blogg on Whiteblaze everyday atleast 3 times a day.Rick was the one who got me to start reposting the Trailspace articles on FB. You can post to any backpacking group like I do.Iam on three different AT sites one my thru hiker class the other section hikers.  Rick and I belong to the LHHT. You can repost on Facebook to any Backpackers your associated with to get the word out..I like the idea of reviews in the forums also..

1:52 p.m. on September 17, 2013 (EDT)
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i joined this site in '07 because i liked and came to trust many of the reviews on the site.  more so than what i see on commercial sites.  the forums are a bonus for me. 

I appreciate how the site is run - well-moderated, but plenty of room for freedom of speech. 

I'm consistently amazed at how much time and energy people can spend on negative things on the internet.  if you don't appreciate a review, don't rely on it.  what does one gain by bashing a reviewer? think about how much time you put into that kind of thing, then think using the time on something more positive.  i think it would be an improvement.   

 

3:12 p.m. on September 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Wow, lots of great ideas and discussion in here so far. So much food for thought, especially around contests and review quality.

I'd love to also hear more of your ideas for retaining existing members and attracting new ones.

(Several of you mentioned social media; any specific ideas for encouraging members to spread the word through those channels?)

5:10 p.m. on September 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi Dave. I am recruiting outdoor pals to come. It worked today as my hiking pal Maggie Figs signed up! Also, I think those of us that are on Facebook who are willing can share the TS page with our like minded friends and that could help to. The more we have invested, the more we will stay and help. Maybe a sticker challenge to see if we can produce page likes. I don't know if you have a way of tracking where the lieks come from.

9:11 a.m. on September 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks gifto! I'll look forward to meeting her.

6:00 p.m. on September 21, 2013 (EDT)
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Wow what a read and so many ideas!  Good luck you three sorting out all these suggestions!

As for me, I actually did not come to this site for a review or to look at gear reviews, I don't remember how I got here, I think it was from another forum.  But I guess my point is that not everyone here is here for the reviews.  Some really enjoy the forums and the discussions held there.  I don't know exactly when the change happened, the new "Face" of TrailSpace, I think it was when Alicia got back form her time off.  I maybe totally wrong on this and I and I am NOT blaming anyone, it's just when I remember it happening. 

I guess my question / comment is, Why?  It must have been a decision that you three made and a direction that you wanted to follow, maybe it makes the site more profitable or at least self-supporting, or was it just a direction you wanted to head?  Now I have nothing against trying to or actually making a business out of this.  If I could figure out a way to do something like this and make a living or at least support my gear habit, I would be thrilled!!  I guess I just would like to see more on the forum and easier access to them.

As for review quality and contest, Yes, having someway to "select" reviews to be entered into the contest and then a random drawing would make more sense to me.  But them I am lacking in reviews, even though there are several items of gear that I should and would like to review.  But the lack of action has nothing to do with the site and much more to do with my personal crap.  

Wolfgang

3:13 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Dave the best thing we can do on FB is repost gear reviews and name our friends the item may help..Belonging to Backpacking groups on FB I post and ask people to do gear reviews for TS..I think when more people hear about it they will participate in it..I have no clue on how to keep members.I have someone working on that question..Thats the hardest one..

6:13 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Far as retention goes?

That's hard to say.

Rewarding prizes for time with the website would be akin to some sort of bribery, and wouldn't be keeping members here for the right reasons.

Why did I join?

The community.

I just had a great weekend backpacking with three other members from TS.

I think we ought to really play up the fact this is a website made up of actual people who not only enjoy gear, but enjoy being in the company of people like themselves.

Feature trip reports on the blog, on Facebook, and heck - if we're able - I wouldn't be opposed to TS member events in different regions, if it were possible.

Community's key. I come back here every day because I've met some quality folks.

Just looks like there's an introduction that needs to be made, I'd say.

2:22 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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So many good thoughts in here. Thank you all for sharing!

Seth, Alicia and I spent a bunch of time earlier this week discussing a lot of the ideas from this thread, and were uniformly impressed by the energy and engagement here.

There's a lot to work with, and I think you'll see some of these concepts start to work their way into what we're doing over the coming months.

If we had to boil all of this down into one thing, I'd say it comes down to communicating Trailspace values. Those values include a sharing our experiences transparently, being open to learning, and valuing differing experience and opinions.

As that applies to reviews, I think Erich said it really well:

[A]s someone who has been in outdoors, hiking, climbing and canoeing for fifty years, my depth of experience may actually be a flaw. No matter how hard I might try, I cannot be the fresh eyed newbie using a piece of gear for the first time and approaching it that way. I have a half dozen stoves and have used everything from canister stoves, white gas and kero burners for fifty years, so I can't honestly bring a beginner's eyes to a new stove. So I believe that reviews by newbie's as a first experience are important.

We all have something to give, and something to learn.

Personally, I hope to give back to the community by improving the site based on what I've learned in this thread.

While we won't be able to implement every suggestion, we will strive to do what's best for the community in the long run, and to continue to make Trailspace a better place for all to learn and share.

5:00 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Wolfman raises some really important questions:

[N]ot everyone here is here for the reviews.  Some really enjoy the forums and the discussions held there.  I don't know exactly when the change happened, the new "Face" of TrailSpace

...

I guess my question / comment is, Why?  It must have been a decision that you three made and a direction that you wanted to follow, maybe it makes the site more profitable or at least self-supporting, or was it just a direction you wanted to head? 

This is a huge, complex topic. The short answer is this:

Trailspace launched in 2001 with two forums and five review categories. Both the reviews and the forums have grown over the years, but the reviews have always been significantly bigger in terms of the number of people using them, and in the revenue they're able to generate.

Since our earliest days, advertising in the reviews sections of the site has been Trailspace's primary source of revenue. Reviews have kept the lights on, the servers running, and allowed for the many improvements to the site over the years. We're able to provide Trailspace as a free service only because of the reviews.

However, our public image has not always meshed with that economical reality. For a number of years we indulged in other directions, taking the reviews for granted, and creating confusion in many about just what Trailspace is. (And, to be sure, it's many things to many people.)

We have taken a number of steps in the last year to re-focus the entire site -- navigation, branding, content, outreach, community -- around the content that is responsible for its continued survival: the reviews. While we've cut back massively in some areas (e.g. articles) we've been careful not to take anything away from the forums.

This shift in emphasis toward reviews may seem radical, but in most ways it's just a return to our roots. Without a successful review program, Trailspace never would have gotten off the ground, and none of it (including the forums) would exist today.

I could go into a lot more detail, but that's the gist of it. Maybe in a blog post...

7:55 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Many thanks Dave!  At least now I know it was not a decision taken lightly.  :)

I figured that it probably had something to do with the good old money issue.  I can't fault you three for that, like you said, it's about keeping the lights on!  Now when one of you win the Power Ball....  Well I expect things to change!  :D

Keep up the great work! 

Wolfman

3:03 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Based on some feedback from members about review quality and retaining valued members of the community, we're gradually implementing a few small changes. One change you'll see sooner than others is providing higher-value prizes to the Reviewers of the Month. When we announce the September Reviewer of the Month, we will award them a prize that is particularly appropriate to the colder weather!   We know members of the community don't write reviews just for the possibility of winning something, but I personally feel very good to be able to hook someone up with a nice thank-you gift.

1:33 p.m. on October 4, 2013 (EDT)
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Continuing on Seth's post, we're working to upgrade the prizes for our Reviewers of the Month, something we've wanted to do for a while.

Peter1955 is our latest Reviewer of the Month (congratulations!) and the winner of a pair of waterproof-breathable Super Armadillo Nano Gaiters for his contributions, thanks to Hillsound ($98 value).

On a side note, I recommend checking out Dave's link to the 2001 site archive for fun.

9:35 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Sorry i am late to this dance.  Here is my two cents...

A frustrating aspect of marketing is the tendency to seek feedback from only satisfied customers.  We are not the customer per se; rather we are actually part of the product.  The advertisers are the customers.  But for the sake of this thread if TrailSpacers are the customer, it might help to seek feedback from those who walk away, it will indicate why they left, and perhaps illuminate areas for change.  You can also seek feedback from new and first time visitors.  Feedback from these two groups will probably be far more enlightening than asking the church choir (us) what you can do to boost attendance.  Our butts are already in your pews.  You need to find out how to capture the would be member and peek his curiosity, or effectively provide solutions to his various  issues.  In this regard our opinions matter less than those who were persuaded to enter, but left too soon.  While hosting site stat reports provide important information, such as which other web site are generating visits, you need more, such as why each person visited.  I came looking for recommendations on ski mountaineering gear.  Unfortunately there lacked feedback on the specifics of my inquiries, but I found the member forums entertaining for their own sake and loitered just to chat and amuse.  I do not know the intricacies of your business and revenue model, but you need to query newbies if you want more members, and that may require more incentives than currently offered to contest reviewers.

While on incentives, one idea is hiding "Easter eggs"  On the site, reqarding the folks that find these eggs.  This will encourrage on site surfing, increasing the likelihood viewers execute a behavior that generates revenue.  This will have to be done in a thoughtful manner, else you end up with treasure hunters that fail to generate revenue.

A challenge to maintaining visitation counts to your site is the nature of the visitor motives.  If we go on the assumption folks come here to research a purchasing decision, then you are limited to capturing this person principally when they decide to research another gear purchase.  While this may generate a fair amount of activity from greenhorns making numerous new purchases, most folks eventually get themselves outfitted, and no longer have motive to visit frequently.  So while the comments of other forum members thus far focus on review considerations, I pose you need to find ways to create interest beyond simply being a gear centric web site.  The discussion forums are an obvious attempt at provide ancillary, complimentary content.  But we here on the forum are amateurs.  Perhaps more articles by folks who do that for a living could be considered.  Some folks like to read my musings (they probably also consider train wrecks a spectator sport), but you may get better results if you we able to obtain more professionally written content.  On a similar vein you can fortify the perceived value of the web site by providing content that facilitates the would-be traveler’s planning activities.  One obvious link would be to quality weather forecasting sites, and other aids, the goal here is making this also a primary site one refers to when planning trips.  While these considerations may confuse or appear to dilute the sites primary mission, I think it is possible to have both the focus you seek as well as the diversity of content that will attract users to linger and visit more often.  But back to the product (i.e. the equipment reviews)

Much has been said about how to regulate reviews to maintain quality.  While better reviews are a good thing, they don’t necessarily generate traffic, at least not the newbie traffic.  Most of us didn’t find this site by word of mouth; we linked to it.  If you want more hits, a more robust keyword strategy may get results.  But if you think your reputation and integrity as a product review site is important, then do something to highlight these attributes.  For example Underwriter Laboratories has built a reputation assuring consumer product quality and safety.  And certain financial service companies are relied on to evaluate the quality of investment products and stocks.  There probably isn’t a agency that can award you a certification to this effect, but you can create de facto credibility with PR.  Impress OEM and merchants that you offer unbiased critiques, and you may be able to convince them to include links on their sites to your site.  This will solve several problems: users can purposefully link over to Trailspace instead of stumbling upon it out in a Google query; meanwhile OEM and retailers can offer your sites reviews to the would be customer, stating TS.com is a neutral, unbiased resource.  The downside of this approach is you may need to screen reviews more aggressively, or restrict who may conduct a review.

In any case it is obvious to me there is still fruit on the tree to pick.  I found your site serendipitously.  You need to create circumstances that make discovery of your site occur early on in one’s product research, not later, as it did in my instance.  And you need something to make the customer linger, and increase their visitation frequency, after all customers that loiter tend to purchase more than those who come and go based on narrowly defined needs and motives.  Thus much of the work addressing your concerns entails focusing on issues beyond equipment review content.

Ed

8:25 a.m. on November 5, 2013 (EST)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
234 reviewer rep
945 forum posts

Thanks, Ed, for all the great suggestions and feedback here! Some of this is stuff that we're working on, and the rest is worthy of consideration. Rest assured that we're also gathering feedback from other segments of the Trailspace audience and beyond. (Just like not everyone's seeing this thread, you're probably not seeing everything we're doing to reach out to other folks :-)

10:46 p.m. on November 9, 2013 (EST)
200 reviewer rep
4,168 forum posts

I am constantly suggesting to other outdoors people I meet to go to Trailspace and either join or look at my and others posts about most everything outdoors besides hunting,fishing and such. I rarely know if they do or not, occasionally one will pop up as a new member.

This summer in fact I have hosted about 20 people on bicycle tours thru a website called Warmshowers. I have suggested to them all to go check out Trailspace and tell them I am one of the few bicycle tourers who post regularly and also do backpacking and day hiking posts.

October 1, 2014
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