Viewpoints.com has set its sights on being the "end all" review site for people who like to read and write reviews. This niche probably should have been filled by now, but mysteriously no one site has dominated this segment of Web 2.0 - with the possible exception of Epinions. Viewpoints offers a platform for reading, rating and writing reviews on everything from laptops to schools and more. In all, Viewpoints has over 700 categories - which they claim is the most comprehensive "citizen view" on the Web. There are substantial obstacles in developing a credible review community, but CEO Matt Moog told me that he believes Viewpoints' focus on reviewer profiles will overcome the credibility hurdle with time.
On the Web we currently have a mixed bag of review sites - everything from Epinions to remote blog sites.
What Makes a Good Review Site?
We are looking to make informed judgments; or in the case of writing reviews, we want to share these pieces of knowledge. In a nutshell - we want a combination of a website(s) we can utilize and one (or more) that we can trust. So far the larger consumer review sites essentially offer limited reviews, hype or in the case of Epinion type sites - just consumer feedback. The big question is: "Do we want/need an all-in-one review entity?" Matt Moog and his team believes a a great number of people do and they have laid out a rather extensive platform to personalize the experience.
Partial view of detailed reviewer profile
Personalization is the Differentiator
Viewpoints approaches reviewing from a slightly different (or enhanced) angle, with a participatory architecture for accreditation. Users are asked to complete unique "I AM" tags that let others know about their traits, personal information and their relationship to the things they review. These profiles are intended to "personalize" the reviews and promote trust and connectedness, in an otherwise clinical venue. Sites like Epinions show product feedback and some data, but the personalization factor is minimal. Viewpoints hopes to capitalize on the power of in-depth person to person discourse.
Perhaps the best way to evaluate Viewpoints' effectiveness right now is to rate their features and the degree to which the site addresses its own goals and hurdles:
- Web 2.0 Technology - Fair, a low tech site by Web 2.0 standards. UI enhancements/features should be addressed.
- Credibility - Undetermined, some reviews are whimsical while others "appear" relevant and meaningful
- Navigation - Good, being of simple design the site is adequately linked - A straight journey from signup to editing
- Writing Editor - Good, a simple but effective edit UI - Sufficient, but more flexibility would benefit reviewers and readers
- Categories - Excellent, with 20 main categories and dozens of sub-categories - This could be displayed better and expanded
- Content - Fair, the number and quality of the reviews is not there yet. The "personalization" effect takes time and valid reviews
- Profiles - Very Good, this would be excellent except for the overall "low tech" feel. Importation of personal data would be good.
- Ads - Fair, Googlish and prevalent ads. Some creativity needed to reduce obtrusiveness to the relevant ads.
- Graphics/Media - Good, as mentioned it is not Web TV, but the integration of Vlog or simple video would help
- Community - Very Good, the community corner accesses: mail, blog, friends, rewards, support and feedback
- Accountability - Fair, the members are the caretakers of value for the site. Attrition or negative/positive feedback - then admin
Example of a members review
The site's 100,000 users have made this into a real reviewing community and they have done a great job of getting across the personality message as well. This concept (or rather the application of a social norm) of "personalizing" objectivity it very valid - in fact this is what Web 2.0 is based on. The platform for expanding a great review community is stable and there is plenty of room for growth. Matt reflected on the "scaling" of Viewpoints and iterated that their backing and strategy reflects patience and getting it right before numbers. The simplicity of the site lends itself to easy discoverability and I found no glitches to speak of. Though many of the reviewers are obviously not experts, as Matt expressed in our conversation, the sincere experiences and first hand knowledge of "known" or more personalized people carries a "special:" weight.
Would you trust this person? The top of a review noting tags
Trust is one heck of a rare commodity today, and building a credible reviewer base is going to take some time. I was a little taken back by the fact that Matt told me there was no intended monitoring or quality aspect, other than a basic thumbs up/down or reporting system. The perfect review site in my mind would have a personal approach backed by solid qualified onsite review.
Technologically the site is Web 1.0 with a twist, as widgets and other reviewer resources are not abundant yet. Aside from more advanced and numerous tools, Viewpoints has one big hill to climb. Even outdated sites like Epinions attract millions of users because of their of credibility - however miniscule or outdated. Viewpoints has to get the message out that there is value and truth to their reviews.
The great news for Viewpoints is that the competition is either fragmented or less interactive. Sites like Yelp are localized or more narrowly focused, Consumer Reports is a pay site and Epinions is far from a community. If the idea of what Matt called their "Center of Gravity"- or rich reviewer profiles - catches on, then Viewpoints could have a very big impact.
However, the power of focused blogs, enhanced browsers and other tools of late may also impact this niche. The expertise and credibility of already excellent reviews (blogs, forums, info sites or .orgs) across the Web are Viewpoints' biggest competitors in my view. Ultimately, the viral nature of communities and the negative impact of fragmented, SEO'd or hyped reviews elsewhere should provide this company new users in a steady stream.