Musings on Contemporary Waffle

“This product is crap !”

I went on the Internet to see what others were saying about a camera that I was interested in buying.

Amazon ReviewsThe first site I visited was, of course, Amazon.com. I knew there would be dozens of comments about this camera, from which I could then get a handle on it’s good and bad points.

Well, maybe yes, and maybe no. But I definitely had an instant blog topic!

On-Line User Reviews!

This wasn’t the first time that I resorted to user reviews to get an indication on the good and bad points of something I wanted to buy. But it reminded me that these reviews always seem to fall into one of three categories, whether on Amazon.com or elsewhere.

Well, then. Let’s have some fun and look at each type of review in some detail, shall we?


I’m sorry to say that by far the most prevalent class of review is the Clueless Review.

More often than not, the reviewer expresses a rush of emotion that comes from spending money on something shiny and new that they’ve maybe never bought before. We’ve all read the “I just bought it and love it” reviews. Here’s how these usually go:

  • “OMG, this is an awesome camera! The pictures are fantastic! I just got it today and took some shots of my cat and the box the camera came in and the pics are awesome. This is my first digital camera and it’s fantastic!”

That one got 5 stars. Was it helpful? Not really.

Special version of clueless reviews: A dying off-shoot of the genre of clueless reviews can be found in a video version. It’s called the “Opening The Package” review, usually found on YouTube, where a person spends 10 minutes filming himself taking the product out of its box and displaying the contents to the viewer. If I were a comedy writer on Saturday Night Live, I’d write a skit about a high school kid who has 3 minutes to review a nuclear power plant and doesn’t have a clue what anything does (“I guess these are the fuel rods …”). That’s how these usually go.


This type of review is the next most prevalent type and is the one that includes the folks who have screws loose; the ranters about trivialities, those easily offended by the slightest imperfections in packaging or delays in delivery time and perceived customer service inadequacies.

And these reviews are where the fibbers can be found who proclaim that the product was already broken when they got it. Sure.

Here are some common and often hilarious variations:

a) The Item Was Not As Described”: Otherwise known as “the review that proclaims the product to be Crap”. Think of these as the road-rage equivalents of on-line reviewing.

  • “I hate this camera! For $30 I expected better pictures. When I zoom 1000% in PhotoShop to get the license number of the pizza guy as he sped off down the street after he didn’t give me the right change, all I see is a blur. THIS CAMERA IS CRAP”.

b) Customer Service Issues”: Otherwise known as the “It-Came-That-Way” review.

  • “When I received the camera it stopped working right out of the box and when I phoned customer service to complain they were really rude and I got put on hold for an HOUR.”

TRANSLATION: You yelled at the customer service person, who then put you on “hold roulette” so someone else would have to deal with you instead.

  • “When I finally got another person on the phone they told me your [sic] the one who broke it and that the warranty doesn’t cover that”

TRANSLATION: You probably broke the camera, when it fell out of the box, after you opened it upside-down. Your lame explanation that the camera was already cracked when you pulled it out of its plastic wrapper didn’t convince the poor girl at the other end of the line who’s heard from 7 other people in the past hour who opened the box upside-down.

  • “I am never buying another [insert manufacturer’s name here] again and your [sic] crazy if you due [sic] to [sic].”

TRANSLATION: The feeling is mutual: that manufacturer probably doesn’t want your business anymore, either.

c) I Got It For My Wife/Sister/Daughter”. He has no idea if the product is any good, but wants you to know what a nice person he is:

  • “I got this camera for my Wife/Sister/Daughter for her promotion/wedding/graduation. She loves it and the guy at the store said it’s very popular, and the price was great.”

Now, if that fellow had a camera of his own, he could make a video of her taking it out of the box just before it fell on the hardwood floor and post it on YouTube!


And, finally, the useful reviews.

They’re there, somewhere, but you have to look hard.

The useful reviews are almost never comprehensive enough on their own, and it takes a bunch of them to make a composite for you to make a good buying decision. But a bunch of these insights might be enough to click on the BUY button:

a) “Too-critical but still useful, 1-out-of-5-stars” review:

  • “I’m a professional photographer who owns four professional cameras and I am very disappointed in the design decisions that Olympus/Canon/Nikon/[basically everybody] made with this thing. There is no [pick your feature] and I really need this feature because it’s on all the high-end cameras I own.”

… except that the camera being reviewed is a mid-range camera and a range-finder just doesn’t fit on cameras of that size, and so you’ll just have to rely on the LCD.

Lesson learned: don’t expect a certain high-end feature on any camera in your price range.

b) “The One Thing No One Has Mentioned” review, that miraculously contains a key decision-making insight that everyone else missed:

  • “I am really satisfied with this camera after using it for 3 months and taking about 1500 pictures. The only thing I don’t like, which none of the commenters have mentioned, is that the charger only works when the camera is off, and so you can’t use it while doing time-lapse photography beyond what the battery will support.”

Lesson learned: You want the camera mainly for time-lapse photography. Now that’s a useful review, no?

c) And, finally, the very rare “Beyond the call of duty” review, the one you want to print out and frame.

This review will be by an experienced user who will run the camera through all of its major functions and report on all useful PROS and CONS and with sections of detailed explanations of each major feature, methodically evaluating the product for its usability, performance, and value-for-money.

These angels don’t work for a magazine and they don’t write reviews for a living. They just know this particular product really well. They are the same folks who write whole Wikipedia articles.

Lesson learned: Alas, these last folks are the rarest of the rare. But they’re there and can usually be found in the 3-4-star reviews. They’re the ones who renew your faith in the freedom of the Internet (see: there is something about freedom in this post, after all), the kindness of strangers, and the sanctity of capitalism.

Bingo! That’s a BUY!


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