Tag Archive for 'product-reviews'

ReviewGist – we read reviews so you don’t have to

Not too long ago I wrote about SmartRatings, a product review site that aggregates expert reviews for a wide range of consumer products. To calculate the aggregated product rank SmartRatings uses the fact that many expert reviewers themselves give the product they review a numerical rank, which SmartRatings then brings to a common denominator and uniformly lists in a nice filterable way.

This approach conquers by its simplicity but has a very significant drawback. It doesn’t allow you to differentiate products by qualities since overall rank is often the only number SmartRatings can obtain from the expert reviews and hence the only number it uses for aggregation. The things become even more complicated if you take into account that each reviewer gives its own weight to different product qualities and the resulting overall rank may mean little to you if your priorities are different from those of the reviewer. For example for some long battery life is the single important quality in choosing a laptop while others give the CPU speed higher priority.

One product - one rank?

How do you enhance and give better structure to your product reviews? If you had direct access to the people writing reviews you would try to target each product quality separately, exactly what Buzzillions is trying to do. But what if the thousands of completed reviews was all you had? This is where semantic analysis comes in play. ReviewGist is a small New Delhi, India based startup that aims at building a product discovery and research tool for consumer electronics that will overcome these limitations. In fact they already have a live site that I have found pretty usable.

How does ReviewGist work?

In the heart of ReviewGist is a web scraping algorithm that goes to review sites and parses the pages with product reviews.

ReviewGist gathers review information for different products from almost all trusted online review sites. Our patent pending deep semantic analysis engine then takes over and extracts out the subjective opinion from these collected reviews. Essentially, we figure out the specific opinions expressed by the reviewer about the product in question.

The opinions are then pieced together to give you a concise and quantitative description of strong and weak sides of each product in the ReviewGist database. Here is for example how the Apple iPhone review looks:

iPhone semantic review

The algorithm is not perfect

On some occasions I have noticed facts were misinterpreted and assigned to wrong categories (e.g. “weak flash” was assigned to battery performance in a camera review). Nishant Soni, the CEO, has confessed in an email to me that “a small amount of human intelligence” is involved in decision making to overcome the current limitations of NLP algorithms. In addition the system is learning from human tagging and the precision should improve over time.


ReviewGist uses semantic algorithms in its bottom-up approach to aggregating product reviews. As a developer I personally prefer it over top-down approach used by most other sites since it gives you better flexibility with how you can present the information to the visitor. It may however suffer from a slow adoption rate since it heavily relies on the quality of analysis these these algorithms can produce, something that still has a long way to perfection.

Buzzillions reviews: aggregated, tagged and messy

Buzillions LogoEver since I wrote about PowerReviews in October 2006 I have not heard about the review-aggregating startup that much, until today when I discovered the fact that they did launch their promised shopping portal after all. Bazzillions is the name.

As much as I liked the original idea of in-sourcing the product reviews from merchants in exchange for the leads the merchants get back from PowerReviews, just as much I don’t like how the shopping portal that is supposed to generate these leads is implemented. I think it really lacks structure and looks somewhat incomplete.

OK, without going into too much of a rhetoric, let’s get hands on. Bazzillions is a fresh site so to avoid glitches caused by lack of reviews I look a look at “Video Cameras and Camcorders”, the category PowerReviews have been working with for some time. I have then used the links to the left to further narrow it down to Sony Camcorders thus filtering out professional equipment and other brands.

Sony Camcorders at Buzzillions

What I have as the result is a list which doesn’t even have a camcorder as the first product, it is a carrying case made by Sony (see the screen shot above). OK, could be a bug. Looking closer I notice that the products are sorted in a strange fashion. The ratings have a tendency to go down but sometimes you can find a lower rated product up in the top and vice versa. There could be some sense in it but I just don’t get it.

Mislabeled products

I quickly scrolled down the list and what I found is a camcorder labeled “Sony High Definition Handycam Camcorder” which judging by the image is the HDR-CX7 model I currently have. Obviously a search by “HDR-CX7” doesn’t produce any result since the product is mislabeled.

Very few merchants

Another thing that disappoints is the limited number of merchants listed offering the products. I understand these are the partners who provide Buzzillions the reviews however with major retailers missing I feel reluctant to use Buzzillions for my shopping. I might well be missing out on the best deal out there - can’t afford that to happen. ;-)

Buzz Guide is ineffective

And the last, the green box in the middle labeled “Buzz Guide” simply doesn’t cut it. I understand the theory. PowerReviews makes merchants ask these questions to their customers as a part of after sale survey and then uses the answers to generate product recommendations on Buzzillions based on your preferences. The result however is somewhat mixed to say the least. What lacks is the quantitative ranking of the products based on the qualities I select. I.e. when I click on “Comfortable to operate” tag I want to know how well the recommendation stands (how many people made it) for each product without having to click on the “Compare” button and examine the aggregate of all the qualities. Without it the results are too unpredictable.


The bottom line is, the idea is great but the implementation has a long way to go before it becomes a place of choice for shopping, at least for me. If all you are looking for is quality reviews on technology products, I recommend SmartRatings, a site I recently reviewed. Retrevo is another alternative. They are not trying to accomplish as much in guiding you (so far they only quantify overall product features vs. price) but the implementation is so much better.

Looking for a gadget review? Try

SmartRatings LogoEver since I received an email from Francisco Gimenez of, I can say I am hooked up to this site. While it may be considered an average price comparison engine (functionality wise), it does great what it claims it can do: aggregating expert reviews for a wide range of consumer products.

SmartRatings uses the fact that very often when an expert reviews a product they give it a rank. What SamrtRatings then does is it normalizes the rank to 100 base scale, averages it out on per product basis, and displays it neatly in a table. Everything 80 and above gets green color, 70 and above gets yellow. Everything else is red.

I just love this simplicity and yet the power to quickly scan and judge what the gadget is worth in the eyes of a professional reviewer. What makes SmartRatings even more valuable is the ability to filter product results by manufacturer, sort them by the product release date and do many other exciting things while looking at a group of similar gadgets. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time.

Here is a hands on example. I am shopping for a Sony camcorder and am looking at a particular model. What I want to do is check what other camcorders Sony released this year, what ratings they got compared to my target model, and if there were any that ranked higher. Since SmartRatings pulls reviews from multiple sources, the comprehensive nature of the service makes sure I get the most complete picture possible.

SmartRatings Screenshot

There is a somewhat similar product review site,, which I tested out last year. As opposite to SmartRatings, aggregates mostly consumer reviews and has very limited set of expert reviews at hand. Another thing that irritates me with is their filters. From the first sight they seem to give more options, some of them are product features related. But as you start trying them out, many don’t work or have incorrect options. What SmartRatings offers is a smaller set but it is just what I need when looking for a product review.

Another site worth mentioning is Retrevo. It’s user interface is more basic but it offers many more sources and in addition to reviews fetches other product related materials, e.g. manuals and forum discussions.

SmartRatings just recently launched and not all bugs have been worked out yet. For example I found that Sony camcorders are sometimes tagged as manufactured by “Sony Electronics” which skews the filter results. That said, I am planning to stick with SmartRatings for my shopping needs. There just doesn’t seem to be a better alternative right now.

PowerReviews – Web 2.0 approach to Product Reviews

PowerReviews A small California based start-up has recently made appearance with a sneak peek at their soon to be shopping portal full of consumer product reviews. Earlier this year this same company started offering product reviews outsourcing to big and small retailers for free. That is right, they offer service that such companies as are charging thousands for. How is it possible? Here is their story on it. In a nutshell:

  • PowerReviews will use the reviews they collect from their clients customers to build their own shopping web site and will monetize it via affiliated sales commission.
  • PowerReviews will license the technology to businesses who themselves want to maintain the product reviews database.

The idea sounds great and PowerReviews team is working hard to get into the market. Among other things, they are patenting a number of leading edge technologies to make use of their services by retailers as easy as possible. The real question is, as a portal will they be able to compete with the behemoths like Epinions and Amazon who currently dominate the market? The answer to this question ultimately defines if they stay afloat 2 years from now or not.

My personal opinion is that they have a very good shot at it. Unlike TheFind – one of the price comparison engines I reviewed earlier – PowerReviews doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the information they provide by taking a different approach to monetizing their idea. Their business model looks sound and they should be able to pull it off.

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