Gear 'Initial Reports'

10:49 a.m. on September 18, 2013 (EDT)
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I like the idea of circulating info on new products, especially when they haven't been out for long. This is clearly a different set of criteria than a TS 'Gear Review'. When I recently put out an 'initial report' on the Sierra Designs Mojo 2 tent, it was so people could get a little more information about a little-reviewed product. It still hasn't had enough use to really make an in-depth review, but the info should still be available. Here's another prime example: I'm buying (very soon) a pair of Lowa Ticam boots. I will not have information for a full review for quite some time, but people still need initial report info... Things like this are the precise reason I haven't gone out & purchased an Arcteryx Nozone 75 pack...

Should there be an area for this where people can find it, I'm afraid information like this would only get buried in the 'Gear Selection' column.

4:03 p.m. on September 18, 2013 (EDT)
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I have bought many outdoor gear items this summer but will not use them till this fall,winter and spring when I am hiking outdoors. I also will not be able to write a review on gear till I have truly used them.

But each new gear review gets put up on the front page when yoy open Trailspace.

6:02 p.m. on September 18, 2013 (EDT)
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MO? I agree with you...initial reports are important...they get available information out so that it can be used...evaluated...discussed...most scientists have a method or practice for releasing early findings just for this purpose.

I am presently starting my initial review of the Klymit vest I got from TS...it will only have a single weekend of use when I submit the review...but after I continue to use the vest I will add to the review so that folks will know the results of continued use. In fact...I think the initial report is crucial for a product like the Klymit vest...because it is so unorthodox that the early input of others might change the whole trajectory of later use...and therefore impact the review overtime.

I do think Gary is right though...the review will show up in the newly reviewed items...and in the active forums as folks contribute and add to it.

10:33 a.m. on September 19, 2013 (EDT)
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This is an interesting question! I'd like to say that people should give their gear enough use so that they know whether or not to recommend it. We occasionally have to delete reviews where someone has just purchased an item and submitted a review commenting that it "looks sturdy!"

Generally speaking, people read reviews to figure out whether the gear in question is suited to the task they'd like to use it for. If the gear hasn't gotten enough use for you to form an informed opinion about it, it's probably not time to submit a review.  That said - you can always go back and edit a review you've done to include more information and observations.  For example - you've found out the tent you bought and loved sleeping in all summer doesn't cut it when the snow flies - or your once treasured headlamp has broken after a year's use.

8:12 a.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks, Sean. This is an interesting idea. By adding a field explicitly asking "how long have you owned this?" or "how much have you used it?" we could easily add a bit more context to each review. We could also use that information to follow up on "initial reports" after a few months and encourage their authors to post updates as their experience has increased.

8:55 a.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Funny this topic has come up. Over the weekend, Pillowthread, Joseph, HornRimmedHiker, and I had a similar conversation. Here were some thoughts we have:

Currently, the fill-in review form asks us to give a summary, list pros and cons, say how we got the product, and then leaves a long, open-ended box to fill in. This can be intimidating to those who don't feel they can write.

What about changing this to field boxes for a person to write as much (or as little) as they want? Fields we discussed were:

Product Specs (technical details, weight, features, etc.)

How Long Have You Owned This Product?

What Conditions Have You Tested This Product In?

Initial Impressions (This can include right-out-of-the-box impressions, but we prefer at least one field test with this item.)

Detailed Review [Identical to the current form]

Impressions after three months of usage.

Impressions after six months.

Now, for the later two fields, TS already notifies you via email if someone responds to your review. Why not a set up an email reminder at three months and six months to ask people to come back and update those fields? This could be a enticed with the promise of stickers or entry into a contest.

If a person does not come back, the box could go to a default, "This person declined to provide a three month review."

These were just some thoughts we had on the trail. I think most people are eager to review new gear, but after it's been with them for a while, their enthusiasm (or disdain) for the product disappears. Unfortunately, we don't want "I just got this, and it's cool!" reviews, but it's human nature to talk about the new and ignore the old. Also, I have several items that have been well-tested, but are no longer on the market. There doesn't seem to be a reason to spend time writing a "Killer Review" on something you might find used on eBay.

10:16 a.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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I actually think it'd be great to have boxes for product specs, just to separate those (the facts) from the user impressions (the opinion). 

People who know the specs already can bypass them, while those interested still have them available to read.

Share a little more of my opinion later on this, but thanks for keep the fire stoked, here, Goose.

11:04 a.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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One click to the product gets the specs from the manufacturer through the website it is sold at. I think it might be a waste of space to reproduce that since, as you say, it generally is a fact not altered by the use or impression. (Unless a spec is detailed by the manufacturer and it is incorrect in the real world). The form USED to be just an open box to load with your impressions. The current form was an improvement on that for sure, and the prompts to the right during a review writing session are meant to aid the writer in keeping thoughts organized and to be complete in the topics generally sought by a review reader. I do like the "time in use" idea, however, some things that wouldn't be as essential. Conditions in which it is used is good to add to a review but I don't think a box driven form creates as well a read as open form writing (with the aids to the right for those less comfortable with their own writing styles.) IMHO.

11:17 a.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Personally, I review a lot of rare or discontinued items, and sometimes the specs and that information is no longer available online - I don't think it'd be a terrible thing to offer the chance to provide that info if it can't be found elsewhere.

Also...

...what about expandable tabs or sections???

Sometimes I want to zero-in on specific information and don't want to sort through a lengthy and highly technical review to confirm something.

I know this is a programming thing, but I think it'd be HUGELY helpful and really would allow reviews to be easier to read and more organized.

11:35 a.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Good point....but the exception so then ya just add them. And when does it get to the point the avereage consumer who looks to the site is overwhelmed with the complexity of the system and just goes to Amazon or REI and reads their reviews.

12:13 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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What about tabs?

I think we could adopt a similar format, just to clearly label sections or points, and then be able to push them out of the way when we want to focus on something specific.

If not tabs, +/- boxes a user could expand or minimize to reach certain information, or put other information away.

I think TS as it is now overwhelms the reader - folks want to find things at-a-glance and trying to play "scavenger hunt" through paragraphs of information can get frustrating sometimes, especially when the search proves fruitless and doesn't provide helpful information. 

Not citing any one review when I say this - I'm guilty of it myself at times - but right now the burden falls on the author to label and define his or her sections. This would also create a universal template so folks would know where to find certain information. As it stands, reviews are a "free swim," varying between two-sentence snippets and pages-long diatribes. This would at least create a middle ground and something to hold as a standard.

1:55 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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giftogab said:

One click to the product gets the specs from the manufacturer through the website it is sold at. I think it might be a waste of space to reproduce that since, as you say, it generally is a fact not altered by the use or impression. (Unless a spec is detailed by the manufacturer and it is incorrect in the real world).

 I was thinking more along the lines of product details not necessarily listed in the specs. For example, I have a tarp with 12 tie-out points. This is stated in their specs, but it doesn't provide the spacing or how they are laid out. Specs like that would be nice.


Plus, some people provide all kind of technical details that I would consider "specs."

2:25 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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AHHH! Maybe I was misunderstanding, but as you say people put that is, so maybe I am not knowing what else would need to be added. I have often simply pointed out the additional features or uses or info in the body when doing my review. So people can do that already. They can even boldy title the sections as many do. I would hate to see it as a form to just fill in blanks. Especially since on can currently fully craft the review how they would like.

2:41 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Nah, Gift -

You're thinking extremes.

We're saying for basic, factual, numeric info - we'd have fields to fill in.

Anything in need of an explanation, or an opinion would still have the main field to do it with.

I do think reviews could use some sort of standard as far as the amount of content goes as well as the information presented.

Organization's a much-needed thing - too many folks go on and on in one large paragraph with no titles, no paragraph separation, and it makes a mess of trying to dissect information from them.

You'd still have a large field to fill out to your liking - I just wish it were easier to break things into sections and *more importantly* make it as easy as possible for others to get the information they need right away.

2:47 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Not sure about the way this thread has swung. We have to assume that people who are writing reviews are at least literate. 

While I can see asking a few questions that will remind people what is required in a good review, I don't think we should be spoon-feeding them every detail. 

'How many tie-down points' might be valuable for one tarp user, and that would follow logically if the person writing the review found that information to be helpful. To another reviewer, the same specs might be irrelevant. 

The bottom line, I think, is that regardless of what we use as a template, we'll still get one-liners and ones that don't tick off every box on the form. We HAVE to depend on the communication abilities of the writers to sift through the information and their personal experiences with the gear to provide an informative and accurate review. 

2:51 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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All true, Peter, and still - the better reviews will always be the ones written and organized more clearly than most. Sure.

However, there's a major difference between "spoon-feeding" and "organization." Being able to close out one tab and open another is hugely helpful, I think. In context, you'd have one for A.) the initial impression B.) first/early use, and C.) extended use, etc etc.

These could be user-defined boxes or tabs to expand/minimize.

I'm just pushing toward a better visual layout. I've continued the thought over in the other thread.

4:57 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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jrenow said:

... I will add to the review so that folks will know the results of continued use. 

After the initial submission, the reviews only show up if you search for that piece of equipment. In other words, a review that you post shows up only one time on the list of new/featured, but will be mostly invisible after that EVEN IF YOU UPDATE IT. That means that what the viewer would actually see is a early and incomplete review based solely on one weekend of use, which they might think is actually based on much more. 

There is a reason the guidelines say to wait until the product has seen some use in the field before posting. 

There are some good ideas here, but I think for the most part we're covering a lot of material that has already been considered and rejected. 

5:10 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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HornRimmedHiker said:

You're thinking extremes.

GoGs ideas sound pretty pragmatic to me. I see no mention of extremes. 

We're saying for basic, factual, numeric info - we'd have fields to fill in.

That information varies as widely as the equipment being reviewed. Weight might be important in a tent, but it has less value in reviewing a hat. Sizes also vary, and I don't see how you could have one field that would cover the the length of a canoe for example, and the hat sizes that are available if that's what's being reviewed. Would you have a field for the number of tie-ins on a tarp in case that was what was being reviewed? How about length - important for a climbing rope, but less relevant for a dehydrated meal. Or what about one for 'basic factual numeric information' such as the volume of a Nalgene bottle, or would you use the same field for the volume of a pack? What about materials? It is necessary to differentiate between the abilities of Gore-tex Paclite and eVent, but a simple field to fill in doesn't explain why, and having a field to fill in would encourage an inexperienced reviewer to tick off the box without doing any research on the difference. 

It sounds to me like your 'simplified' form would be much more complex than what's there now. I think the problem isn't with whether people are writing good reviews (there will always be good or bad ones) but whether they can be screened for quality. The 'Featured Reviews' section already lets TS managers do that. 

5:12 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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As I said on the trail this past weekend...I like the drop-down boxes idea...because I personally do not care about manufacturer's specs and features...but many others do...and hiding this information makes it so I am not troubled with skimming over paragraph after paragraph of what to me is useless information (I do this enough in student papers)...and at the same time makes such information no more than a mouse click away.

In fact...the ONLY thing I care about are  the "grounded" experiences and opinions of users. As a scientist of human experiences (of technology I might add) what makes data valuable (both qualitative and quantitative) is context. For example...when I ask respondents about their use of a particular device I like to employ open-ended questions such as: 1) How did you use it? 2) Why did you choose this particular device 3) For how long did you use it? 4) Where did you use it? 5) When did you use it? 6) What did you dislike about it? 7) What surprised you? 8) What changes or strategies did you utilize with its use? Answering questions such as these in your reviews will make them context-rich...it will "situate" them...and this is exactly what will help others discern whether a particular device or practice might work in their particular context (which is undoubtedly different!).

With that said...like Peter I fear formulaic reviews...one of the things I really like about TS is the very democratic approach to reviews (intentional or not). I value the variance...even the one-liners...and do not find that it in anyway impedes my capacity to judge the merit and value of reviews. In fact...I strongly caution against too heavy-handed or restrictive a review process...as innovation nearly always blossoms in the less rule-bound corners of social-life (the history of the PC is a perfect example).

6:08 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter, for all purposes, the following will be posted below as a response to you.

I'm just trying to brainstorm how we can require a minimum of context without making it too much, too restrictive, or too formulaic for any person.

On the general whole, the longer the review, it more thorough it is (operative word being "general"). 

For example:

We reward reviews over a certain word count, however, we don't have a minimum word count. Why not? I don't think a couple paragraphs is too much to ask.

The easiest information to meet minimum standards are the specs, yes.

We already link to the manufacturer specs, yes again.

So why we go along the lines of what G00SE suggested, and have users choose from other information?

These speak to how legitimate the review will be.

Examples:

Time Used: 1 Trip / 1 Month / 6 Months / 1 Year / 1 Year +

Seasons Used: (Check all that apply): Winter / Spring / Summer / Fall

Used For: Hiking / Car Camping / Backpacking / Mountaineering, etc etc

This allows us to learn a little more about the users, how they use the product, and how long they're used it. 

Long story short, you really can't expect anything of a certain quality unless there are standards set, and quality is an issue, then it seems our standards would have to be re-evaluated. Simple as that. 

8:51 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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jrenow said:

I fear formulaic reviews...one of the things I really like about TS is the very democratic approach to reviews (intentional or not). I value the variance...even the one-liners...and do not find that it in anyway impedes my capacity to judge the merit and value of reviews.

For sure. It's easy enough to figure them out:

"I just got a great deal on a climbing rope. The gym was selling off some old ones, and I got one of those purple ones for next to nothing'.

Number of words is a poor measure. Some of us are just more verbose than others, but a dozen bad reviews, however short, will still tell us there are serious questions about the product. 

I can see using the tabs - many websites use headers like 'Description', 'Specs', 'Reviews' and 'Ask and Answer'. And sometimes technical specs can be a bit boring, and often beyond the knowledge level of many readers. They want to know whether its waterproof or warm, and  I don't see that clicking a tab would be a problem if they need more information and it's easily available.

I would however add this from Seth: "If the gear hasn't gotten enough use for you to form an informed opinion about it, it's probably not time to submit a review." Let's try to keep that in mind. 

9:16 p.m. on September 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Goose, pillowthread, Joseph and I were all talking this weekend about a better way of laying out and reading reviews.

Dave, dude - think I've got it.

I think the next step for TS is really finding a solidly-grounded way of graphically and visually organizing reviews. 

What about "jump-to" links - say we broke the one big box down into smaller ones, per those questions asked on the right-side margin ("Packability, Ease of Use, Durability," etc) and when I clicked on "Durability," it jumped right to that section.

This still maintains our existing template and just breaks it into smaller parts. 

The writer would not be required to fill these out, nor would they have a word count required for them, but they would rewarded for the number filled out and the length to which they did (ex: so many points for 300+ words).

12:59 a.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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A whole lot of reinventing the wheel it seems. No real sense in fixing what isn/t broken.

8:10 a.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter1955 said:


I would however add this from Seth: "If the gear hasn't gotten enough use for you to form an informed opinion about it, it's probably not time to submit a review." Let's try to keep that in mind. 

 That is the problem I see with some existing reports as well as this concept of an initial report.  I know folks are excited to unbox a new piece of gear but how a person felt upon seeing the item in their living room for the very first time is of no use to me when I'm trying to figure out a purchase.  Setting it up in the backyard is only slightly less useless.

For backpacking gear the item really needs to have been used on trail for multiple trips.  Backyard sleepovers with the kids or car camping are not going to provide enough information to make a review worth sharing, at least from the perspective of a backpacking shopper.  Those things can be part of a bigger picture, but actual trail use is what I want to know about.

10:34 a.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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This is a great conversation. It mirrors a lot of the internal conversations we have, which is a relief! It's wonderful to know that the community is thinking hard about the questions that keep me fired up.

This conversation started with Sean's great question:

I like the idea of circulating info on new products, especially when they haven't been out for long.

Our Trailspace Gear Review Rules and Guidelines addresses this:

8. Only review gear you have used.

But this leaves a lot unsaid - the question of "how long do you have to use gear?"

Visitors to Trailspace, especially those who are new to the outdoors, put a lot of trust in the reviews, and developing a mechanism to sort new reviews into "preliminary" and "non-preliminary," never mind the backlog of the 25,000+ awesome reviews already on site isn't going to happen without the help ofIBM's WATSON supercomputer!

When I'm reviewing gear - I use it until I could give a recommendation to a friend. Sometimes, gear breaks or doesn't work quickly - within a few weeks.  Then, I'd feel comfortable telling a friend "Don't buy that dude!" and reviewing a product.  Other products take longer. I used my Dawn Patrol Softshell for more than 3 months before I was comfortable reviewing it.

If you haven't used gear long enough to make a recommendation to a friend, think about holding off on the review. You could:

1. Submit a draft review in the Review Tips and Tricks Forum.

2. Share initial impressions and ask for feedback in the Gear Selection Forum.

3. If the gear is specific to a certain activity, you could even start a discussion in the Paddling or Climbing forums

1:55 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Trying to put a firm timeframe on "how long" seems to be a fool's errand. Seth's rule of the thumb of "long enough to make a recommendation to a friend" is probably about as close a we're going to come.

In many cases, even small bits of information, based on initial impressions, can provide a lot of utility. This is especially true in the case of products that have only been available for a short time. At a time when nobody has very much experience with a product, but lots of people are interested in it, a few initial impressions are infinitely more useful than an empty page.

For example, does the latest hyped-up water filter take arms of Atlas to operate? That's an important piece of information to a lot of people. Nobody benefits by withholding that sort of information.

As for the review form itself, we try to strike a balance between usability (of both the form and the resulting reviews) and creativity. The form has been through many iterations over the years, and when it gets too complex, or has too many requirements, people stop using it. The current setup has worked pretty well, prompting reviewers to provide the most useful information up front, while still providing plenty of room for creativity. (Before we added the Summary and Pros and Cons fields, we'd see a lot of reviews that were quite long, but never got around to delivering a verdict on the product, which made them not-so-useful for most readers.)

As you may have noticed, each member can only review each product once. If you try to re-review a product you've already reviewed, you'll be prompted to edit the existing review instead. That's by design. Our goal is to have each review reflect the reviewer's current opinion/experience with the product, so you can edit that review in perpetuity, updating your rating and adding or correcting details as you gain experience.

We'll see about adding some fields to indicate length of experience, and in the meantime you can mention that info in the body of the review.

Oh, I'm going to respectfully disagree with a couple Seth's conclusions. If you're going to review a piece of gear -- regardless the length of your experience -- your review belongs in the reviews, not in any of the aforementioned forums. Sean was right in the initial post: having review-type information buried somewhere in a forum makes it less useful.

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