For the product manager, product reviews can play two critical roles. They can be used to get customer feedback during the product development and iteration cycle (Source). Secondly, strong customer reviews can boost sales (Source). However, many consumers approach product reviews with caution because they tend to be subjective. This is the challenge that the founders of ProductWiki.com had in mind when they started the website in 2005. The idea behind the site was to provide an unbiased and accurate community resource. The website went offline in 2017.
What happened to ProductWiki.com? We attempt to find out by covering the history of the website, the challenges it was designed to solve, and its achievements. Finally, we identify sites that product managers can consider for reviews and customer feedback.
The History of ProductWiki.com
In 2005, Amanie Ismail and Erik Kalviainen (wife and husband) teamed up with Amanie’s brother, Omar Ismail, to launch ProductWiki.com. The three founders all graduated from the University Of Waterloo’s engineering department.
Omar worked as the website’s chief technical officer. This role entailed striking deals with the site’s partners as well as handling its technical integration with other platforms (Source). Amanie was responsible for designing, developing, and running the website. In this role, she developed a cloud-based writer management system (Source). Erik took the role of COO.
Creating an Extensive Product Catalogue
ProductWiki.com aimed to create the most extensive free product information catalog in the world. As a wiki, anyone could edit reviews. To avoid revision wars, the website introduced a feature allowing users to add and vote on the pros and cons of listed products. Readers could then vote on each of the pros and cons until a consensus emerged (Source).
But how did ProductWiki.com make money? The website raised money through Google AdSense. Google AdSense is a system whereby owners of websites earn money by allowing advertisements on their sites.
The ProductWiki model had one key advantage. Readers created the content for free.
Nominated for “Best Bootstrapped Start-ups”
In 2007, ProductWiki was nominated for the “best boot-strapped start-up” at the Crunchies. The awards were run by TechCrunch, the US-based online publication that focuses on the tech industry (Source). The Crunchies were often referred to as Silicon Valley’s version of the Oscars.
Writing for his website, marketing consultant Mark Evans says that the award was testimony that "at a time when there’s probably too much information to be useful on many sites/services, ProductWiki may well be onto something by consolidating and synthesizing product information” (Source).
What Then Happened to ProductWiki.com?
In March of 2013 ProductWiki merged with Bootic.com. The idea appears to have been to provide an ecommerce site where the descriptions of the products sold could be updated by anyone, wiki-style. (source) Bootic itself stopped publishing in 2016, although the final copyright date in the footer was from 2014, suggesting that perhaps the site had not been professionally updated for two years before it went off the web.
Sites Product Managers Can Consider for Reviews
Getting reviews and customer feedback is vital to the product lifecycle.
Social posts and business reviews can help in shaping a company’s online reputation. Writing for the marketing website Vendesta.com, Heidi Abramyk sums up the importance of product reviews for the product manager. She notes that "one of the worst things a business can do is ignore their online reviews and social posts” (Source).
With ProductWiki.com out of the picture, what platforms are available for product managers looking for reviews and feedback? We identified a few.
Consumer Reports defines itself as “an independent, nonprofit member organization that works side by side with consumers for truth, transparency, and fairness in the marketplace.” The site promises that the reviews it carries are a result of investigative journalism, thorough research, and consumer advocacy.
For the product manager, the site says that it delivers the advantage of facilitating networking between consumer groups, the media, and research and testing consortiums (Source). This implies that the website is a credible resource for managers who want to relay accurate information about their products.
Best Products promises that it has a team of expert editors who research products, conduct hands-on tests, interview industry pros, and do market research. Also, they review customer feedback and use it for their comprehensive reviews.
This review site says that it does not have any software or algorithms in place to choose the products it reviews. All products are hand-picked and tested or researched (Source).
The Wirecutter is a New York Times company with the tagline "Reviews for the real world." According to the website, reviews “are made through vigorous reporting, interviewing, and testing by teams of veteran journalists, scientists, and researchers.” To ensure fairness, the website indicates that its writers are never made aware of the company’s business relationships (Source).
Test Freaks indicates that its main aim is to help sales “grow faster with the help of customers." It says that it accomplishes this by allowing managers to collect Q&A, reviews, and other content from customers. This user-generated content is then used to make decisions.
Test Freaks also indicates that it crawls reviews from more than 15,000 sources. With this feature, the product manager remains aware of the current conversations about their products (Source).
According to Consumer Research, it aims to simplify the product research process, particularly for consumers. The website says that it accomplishes this by “cutting through the noise of thousands of product reviews and spec comparisons to bring you the product that best fits your lifestyle and budget.”
But how does Consumer Research live by its promise? The website says that it takes a human-centered approach by focusing on both good and bad reviews about a product (Source).
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