Are online forum posts accurate or useful or junk?

Submitted by peter on Mon, 07/04/2022 - 12:47

Another online forum post bites the dust. I went looking for the latest news on a topic of interest for some of my projects. I found mostly junk. The web is a difficult place to find anything other than misguided opinion or outright lies for financial gain.

Here are results from todays search.

Who needs help from the Internet?

Almost everyone shopping for a product or service the first time should look for advice from experienced people. Although their recommendations may be useless for you, their explanation of their choices should help you list what needs to be considered and what has to be avoided.

I searched for a topic I research in detail each year. Instead of my articles or articles from other unbiased researchers, Google offered up a page full of opinions in forums. All the opinions on the first page of Google results were junk.

What are the results?

The first site listed in the Google results uses a major measurement that is not explained. The "measurement" does not add up to the specifications for the recommended devices. It is only useful as a relative guide. Recommendation 1 might be better than 2, certainly worth looking at first. You still have to research all the detail yourself.

The second Web site in the results featured an old article dated as from this year. Lazy. Updating the article would require only an hour. Either that or leave the old date on the article as the article, with the real date, might be of use to people buying old equipment.

Quora was the third site listed in the Google search results. The Quora entry was an opinion that is completely out of date and was most likely never right, even when written. There might have been a day when the opinion was accurate but a couple of years before the date on the post. The opinion was was dated just a few months ago. There was no explanation of the logic behind the recommendation. It has nothing of use for the beginner and, worse, is misleading.

Reddit appeared next with what was, for Reddit, a useful post. They confined themselves to a very narrow A/B comparison of two options and explained the difference. Outside of this one post, I rarely find anything of use on Reddit. To get a good answer on Reddit, you often have to study the topic in fine detail then ask a really simple focused question. By the time you have a question that will generate useful answers, you already know the answer.

The next result has text saying one thing and charts showing something different. Sloppy.

A result linking to an article a whole generation out of date.

Next up is a site with a page that reads like the marketing paragraphs from the home pages of some major brands. Nothing of use about the actual products.

An obsolete page.

A result liking to a site that just summarises one of the results listed above. Nothing new.

The last result on the first page measures something used by only a few hundred people in the whole world. There is no way to compare their test to anything we might use.

All those results and nothing of real use. You would have to be a good researcher and more than a beginner to make use of the results.

When are opinions useful?

An opinion of the type "buy X' is useless. An option along the lines of "I buy Y because they are more reliable and X or Z" is useful. The second type of opinion lets you know the person has used X, Y, and Z but not A, B, or C. The second type lets you know the person values reliability. You might might value low price and choose Acer instead of ASUS or you might want a fashion accessory like Apple.

You can look further. An opinion on reliability might be based on corporations buying new devices each year, as is common for Apple, BMW, and Ford. Engineers might talk about reliability as three years, ASUS, six years, Toshiba, or twenty years, Toyota.

In my case, twice I had to drive Fords as company cars and both were faulty from day one. Compare that to car brands I purchased at ten years old and drove for ten years without problems.

Or friends notebooks that broke the day after their 12 month guarantee finished, despite light usage. My previous notebook survived six years of very heavy use with just one low cost easy battery replacement. The keyboard eventually wore out. Just prior to a key falling off, the worn old keyboard was better than 98% of the keyboards on new machines.

If you use your computer, car, or whatever the same way I do then my opinion would be of use. Face to face, I would ask questions about your use before recommending stuff. In online forums, I usually do the same and ask questions before spouting opinions.

Where is the good information?

Look for Web sites and forums where people talk about usage like yours. You want a new camera. Everyone wants to recommend the camera giving them that highest commission. Skip the generic stuff.

Do you photograph wildlife or weird fashion garments or shoot in the rain? Find people talking about the same uses. Find people who live or work in the same climate, the same indoors/outdoors, near salty ocean spray, low light or sunlight. What do they use? Do they depend on one camera or start the day with several and an assistant to change lenses? For a car, it might be driving around in mud or sand or a sparkly clean shopping centre car park.

Look for people doing what you want to do and check the detail in their advice. Get several independent opinions as every one of them could add another question you need to ask before buying.

Why put in all that work?

The Apple users would not put in all that research work. They just buy what they are told to buy each year and go "oh well, maybe next year will be better". What a waste. A couple of hours of research could find you the perfect choice for years to come. Instead of $2000 every year, you might spend only $700 and use the device for four years.

Worth anything?

The worst articles and comments might mention something worth looking at. A brand or model you do not know. A link somewhere useful.

Check the location of the writer. Most reviews are written in cold countries, something mostly useless in Australia and other hot countries. Brands reviewed overseas might not have support in your country. The price can be wildly different country to country. Big brands often source products from multiple factories which means the product in your local shops might be nothing like the identical sounding model in another country.

Videos of how to repair devices or replace batteries or to upgrade storage can show you the internals. You might see the differences country to country. You might spot problems. Look at the articles on how to clean out the fans and other maintenance. An influencer trying to sell you brand A might accidentally reveal important features that make brand B a better choice for you.

On the way through lots of Web sites, you will learn to ignore the sites that always recommend Volkswagen or Apple despite their reviews showing the products to be inferior.

Good luck on your search for the truth.