Saturday, February 23, 2008

Who can you trust?

The Internet has a lot of really useful information. Unfortunately it's also filled with a lot of dis-information designed to do but one thing: to get you trust what "they" say as gospel and hopefully persuade you to buy the product or service that they want to steer you towards. Often times these folks are paid to this.

They're paid to write persuasive reviews on behalf of the company, product or person that has hired them.

Doesn't seem very fair does it?

It's not, but you've already come to the first step of thwarting their attempts by being informed about what's out there. So what else can we do to help wade through their words and prose to figure out exactly whether a given brand of equipment is worth it to buy? There's a process that I go through every time someone asks: "hey, is this printer any good?" It starts with the most popular search engine out there: Google!

It's amazing what we can find in Google with the right keywords. Simply put in the brand and/or the model number including the word "review" at the end. I'm basically searching for sites that I have come to trust. I want to check out certain magazine sites, newspapers that have technology columns, and any other computer online resources that do thoughtful reviews on products, software and services. Basically, I'm looking for an honest assessment and not someone paid to say all the right things. If I'm looking for printer reviews, I want to check out places like CNet and PC Magazine to see if they have reviewed them or not.

"All I have to do is trust the brand name"
We don't always know if a reviewer has a bias against one company or another. It's like the whole "Ford vs. Chevy" grand debate. You can have people that drive Chevy trucks their hole life and refuse to even consider a Ford merely based on principle alone. In computer terms, this happens all the time in the ongoing battle between PC or Mac. Both are very capable platforms but are uniquely designed for different purposes. But you'll have the naysayers from one side or the other trashing the other platform without really giving a viable technological reason why they don't like it.

Another example of this though is blindly trusting the brand name for everything they produce. Here's an example: Hewlett Packard makes really good printers, but their desktop computers are okay, but not great. Now based on that assessment, we can see that HP makes good printers, but when it comes to purchasing a new computer, we may want to find a different company. It's this kind of review that proves more beneficial because we're not going to rubber stamp every product HP makes even though they maybe exceptionally good in one area.

"Customers can be trusted"
Sometimes this is true in some cases, but you need to be even more critical when a customer leaves a review because someone may be really upset by the way Dell handled their customer service from years before. Some people will continue to carry out a "vendetta-style" review that may not have anything to do with the product or their experience. It'll be a lie, a fabrication.

Others will get increasingly frustrated with a product because they didn't read the instructions or couldn't diagnose the product successfully. They condemn the product despite the fact it was likely cause by their own problem.

We then have the "I'm an I.T. expert" reviewer. Which basically is a desperate attempt to win you over that somehow their "expertise" somehow weighs more than the casual review. Be weary of the self-professed "I.T. experts" and their opinions because anyone who has to advertise their I.T. experience is a bit problematic. It's almost like saying: "hey, I know what I'm talking about, listen to what I have to say." I read reviews to be informed, not to be impressed.

The last group of customer reviewers are also "paid-for-reviewers" which will be focused on "product A" -- give them glowing reviews from several different accounts while trashing "product B", a similar product, but a competitor. The reviewer's jaded view on the product is predicated on getting payment from their contractor.

That doesn't seem very fair either.

Look for the middle
That's why when I'm looking into the background of a given product or service, I'm checking the good, the bad and the ugly. I want to know the worst case scenario and see how it matches up against the positively glowing reviews. When you read a cluster of reviews you want to look in the middle. You want to hone in on performance issues and reports of customer service. But when it comes to customer service, we need to watch out because most of those jobs were outsourced to another country and there's a pronounced language barrier. Folks get frustrated when they can't communicate -- so you need to temper the customer service score a little bit or at least take that into consideration when you are making your purchase.

Sometimes if you can't find your exact model, do a search for other similar models by the same company. More than naught, models have been discontinued for a newer model and thus have become obsolete. Sometimes these units are replaced by better, more capable products and may be more cost effective solution. Sometimes a particular run of products can have defects in them and it would be prudent to steer clear of them for a cycle or two.

Bottom Line
With careful consideration, weighing the pros and cons with an objective point of view, you can discern a practical perspective of the item you're considering. It's important to get as many different opinions of the product you're considering as well. Just because one person trashes your computer while another one thinks it walks on water -- the truth is somewhere in between. Don't be afraid to do a lot of digging and find more information before you make your decision. It's not unreasonable to dedicate some time in researching your product -- the trick is to know where to trust and how far to trust them.

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