What our audience thinks about them.- Ed
I’d like to thank all those who sent me emails answering the questions I asked a while back.
1) How important do you find the hardware-related opinions and/or recommendations in determining what websites you visit?
A) Very important, I visit or stop visiting a place based on that.
B) Somewhat important, I just take what I read with a grain of salt and cross-check against other websites.
C) Not very important, I mostly just skim for factual details and benchmarks.
D) Not important at all, I just look at the numbers/graphs.
2) How important do you find hardware-related opinions and/or recommendations?
A) Very important, I usually decide about a product based on what one particular place says about them.
B) Very important, but it’s stupid to rely on just one opinion, I see what a bunch of places say about something.
C) They would be important if I could just find places I could really trust.
D) I have little faith in reviewers’ opinions; I’d much rather go to forums and find out about a product from real people.
E) Just give me the facts, anything more than that just annoys me.
F) Other (explain)
There seems to be a slowly growing level of skepticism about computer hardware websites. About 70% of those who answered basically used a number
of places to judge a product. Only about 20% seemed to want to place a great deal of faith in a place, but most seemed to think that unrealistic.
About 15% indicated they preferred to look at forums to get a better idea of a product. There was little “just the facts, man” expressed, though.
Shopping around for multiple opinions and angles about a product seems to be obvious to most of the audience, but is rather contrary to how many
websites conduct business. They act as if the audience engages in one-stop shopping, but they don’t.
3) How often do you read hardware reviews?
A) All the time, just to keep up with the times.
B) All the time, this is Home Shopping Network for Men.
C) Only when I’m thinking about buying something.
D) Only when I’m definitely buying something.
E) I rarely/never look at them even if I am ready to buy something.
About 80% said they looked all the time, most of them just to keep up with the times. Only about 20% looked just when they were ready to buy something.
4) How important do you find computer-related commentary that is not a review of a product(s)?
A) Very important, it gives me a better perspective.
B) Somewhat important, sometimes I find something interesting in them.
C) Rarely important, they aren’t very good and/or I get little out of them.
D) Rarely important, I’d much rather read reviews.
E) Not important at all, they annoy me.
This was roughly a 50/50 split between those who found it very important, and those who found it somewhat important. Again, very
little evidence of the “Dragnet” approach here.
5) In your experience, what is the primary reason why you stop visiting a website?
A) I find the website biased.
B) I disagree with the website a lot.
C) I lose confidence in the ability of the website to be able to produce accurate and complete work.
D) I find the website too commercial and just out to promote the product.
E) The website just doesn’t cover items I’m interested in anymore.
F) Too much BS, or just too much to read.
G) I rarely stop visiting a site.
H) Other (explain)
Answers began to fragment at this point; people usually gave multiple answers to this question (in which case I just split up their “vote” like I normally do). Loss of confidence in a place’s ability to do the job accounted for a little over a quarter of the responses. Just behind it was the feeling that the
website had become too commercial. About a sixth indicated some form of bias as a reason, while another sixth said the website just didn’t items that interested them any longer. One person simply said, “the site vanishes.”
An item that got mentioned fairly often was the frequency of update. A decrease in the frequency of new material was a big reason for dissatisfaction with a site.
6) Which of the following do you generally find most important and valuable in a review of a product?
A) The benchmarking done.
B) The factual details of the product.
C) The experience of the reviewer with the product.
D) The reviewer’s opinions/recommendations.
This one was the biggest surprise to me. Over 40% found the reviewer’s experience with the product to be most important. Benchmarking came in only third, with less than 20% of respondents indicating that that was the most important factor.
The comments I got suggested that what people want was an informed, intelligent reviewer living with a product for a while and giving the audience a feel for the product rather than a barrage of numbers. There was considerable criticism of “stick it in, run X benchmarks, take it out” types of reviews. Length of reviews was also a factor cited by many; overly lengthy reviews were chided by more than a few.
7) Which, if any, hardware websites (excluding Overclockers.com) do you think very highly and why?
Few people listed more than five websites, and what they listed tended to fall into a pattern. There was a “reference” website or two, as one put it, “I use ____ to look up things like an encyclopedia.” There was the usually the “indepth” website choice. There was often the “specialist” site in an area the person was interested in. Some liked a “news” place. Finally, there was the “personality” site, where the person simply liked the personas at the site.
It did seem like the more a website began to resemble the commercial websites, the more negative comments were made about the place, and the less popularity it had. There were some indications that people who still liked such places unreservedly tended to be among the less informed.
It could well be that such sites are picking up the kinds of audiences the commercial websites get, but it looks like they pay a price for it among the more hardcore fans.
Who will replace them in the due course of time? That I’ll discuss along with conclusion in Part II on Thursday.
The End of One-Stop Shopping?
If your comments said anything, they said, “We get second, and third, and fourth opinions.”
This probably didn’t knock you out of your seat. It’s far more likely that, “Well, DOH” was your more likely response.
Nonetheless, what was fascinating about your answers is the degree and consistency with which people niche websites. Even purported all-purpose website get niched.
Most people do not visit a lot of websites regularly. Most visit no more than five, and will generally look at others only when there’s an item of particular interest to them.
What’s interesting is that of those five or so websites, people rarely visited three or more of the same type of website. Usually, they would visit only one or at most two of a particular type.
Another consistent trend is that so long as a place was considered pretty good at something, other flaws didn’t much matter, especially when they were easily definable (and presumably avoidable).
By that I mean, “Well, X seems to have a bug up his rear about (minor item Y)” didn’t seem to bother people much at all, but “X won’t give (major product Y) the light of day” did.
Encyclopedias: This is the niche the typical all-purpose sites usually fell into. These were often used when someone needed to dig up a few facts about a particular item. The sites that seemed to fall into this category were: Anandtech, Tom’s Hardware and Sharky Extreme.
Encyclopedias were different from the other niches in that they tended to have a higher rate of negative comments than other niches. You often saw, “I go there, but maybe not for much longer.”
To a large degree, what’s probably happening here is that there are fairly few comprehensive sites, and more players in the other niches, so if you don’t like a niche player, you just don’t go there (or mention them).
On the other hand, those three seemed to be in different stages of hardcore audience erosion. Anandtech seemed to be in an early stage; while there were some concerns about content and commercialism, more concerns were expressed about lack of updates and overly long reviews.
Tom’s Hardware seemed to be in the middle stages. There were more concerns about content and relative lack of usefulness; less “I don’t like what they’re doing at the moment” and more “I don’t like them, period.” Only about half the respondents who listed Anandtech listed Tom’s Hardware as one of their top choices.
Sharky’s Extreme seemed to be in the later stages. They had relatively little popularity, and those who liked them tended to be those relative few who just looked at the “encyclopedia” sites and were pretty noncritical of them.
This does not mean these places are actually losing overall audiences. Rather, as these sites tend to resemble commercial endeavors, they appear to be picking up less dedicated audiences while losing the hardcore element.
Deep Thought: People tended to regularly visit one or two places which tended to serve up more than a million reviews. The particular websites might review fairly often, or fairly infrequently, but they all tended to take a deeper look at products and trends.
The places that fell into that category were Ace’s Hardware, Ars Technica, Lost Circuits and Tech Report. We also seemed to fall into that category. While not as popular as the encyclopedias, they did get mentioned more often than most of the other niches.
Specialist Sites: Those with a particular interest usually liked to go to a site which specialized in that area. Easily the most popular was the recently-departed Storage Review. Procooling.com was mentioned pretty frequently. There were votes cast for video dedicated sites, CD-R sites and SMP sites.
The “specialist” sites which surprisingly did not do well were those dedicated to a company’s processors. AMD-dedicated sites (with one particular exception, see below) were rarely mentioned, and Intel-dedicated sites weren’t mentioned at all. Given the preponderance of AMD use in this market segment, you would have expected more. Perhaps people think it’s one thing to talk about AMD products almost all the time, but another to be officially dedicated to doing so.
News: Although many places provide a lot of links, it seemed like you only visited a few places primarily for that. [H]ardOCP easily won that category, with more “traditional” news places like the Inquirer or Register getting votes, but nowhere near as many.
Personality: There were a few places where people just found the website personalities entertaining. [H]ardOCP again led that category, but places like Bit-Tech and Virtual Hideout also garnered votes.
Others: Although “decision by forum” seems to be an increasingly popular way to choose products, only one place was repeatedly cited for its forum activity: AMDMb.com. It seems like forum success is heavily dependent on getting a critical mass of intelligent participants heavily involved in a particular place, and AMDMb.com appears to have excelled there.
The Future: A [H]ard Row To Hoe?
[H]ardOCP was actually fairly unique among the websites in that people listed much different reasons for liking it. Some liked using it as a portal. Others usually liked the personalities involved, or usually liked the reviews.
However, people didn’t therefore find it the only place to go. They tended to find it a place that, while not perfect, was good enough at a number of things to go there regularly, but not good enough to just go there.
The point of this is not to criticize [H]ardOCP, actually quite the opposite. The [H]ardOCP approach seems to be more realistic given the nature of the Internet and the habits of the hardcore than the encyclopedias’ belief in one-stop-shopping. [H]ardOCP did almost as well as Anandtech among respondents, and better than anyone else.
Keep in mind, though, that most of the respondents tended to be very interested and dedicated hardware enthusiasts, which is a relatively small segment of the computer-buying population and which has some relatively peculiar views about certain things.
One of those views can be described as “competent but not commercial.” Being anti-commercial is not an attitude likely to be widely held by the average PC Magazine user, for instance.
The encylopedias seem to be moving away from their initial audiences, and towards the less-dedicated mainstream audience. Their competition will stop being the typical computer hardware site and become the commercial sites, which may prove to be a difficult transition for some.
A year from now, for instance, we could do something like this again, and find the encyclopedias doing pretty badly in any poll, yet getting more visitors and hits than ever.
This will raise the question to the popular sites that will replace them: Is appealing to the dedicated hardware junkie a self-limiting action? Is increasing commercialism inevitable to sustain growth? Is it irresistable to most?
Good question, no good answer.
The other clear option an aspiring website has is to fill a niche. Get very good at something. That will get you an audience, but not a huge one.
The question to those who take that path is: Will the hardware hardcore ever get very big, or is this going to be some sort of minor league from which people graduate to the mainstream?
Another good question without a good answer, yet.