Introducing Product Reviews!

We made a new product review feature for the Web site. Check out all the gory implementation details!

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Product reviews. You know, the little one-to-five star ratings with funny and informative comments that accompany product listings on e-commerce web sites all over the Internet? Yeah, we have those now.

Wait, don’t you already have comments?

So glad you asked, and yes we do! The customer comments have been a great way to give folks an outlet to praise, condemn, ask questions about and engage in discussion about SparkFun products. They are a treasure trove of great conversations for many products - for instance I found the comments on the MPU-9150 9DoF board invaluable when I was building a project based on it.

The shortcoming of the comments section come up when customers like myself are actually looking to buy a product - does it work? Was it easy to hook up? Did it let go the magic blue smoke upon first power-on? The inquiring and informed shopper wants to know!

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Enter reviews. There’s a new tab on product pages for reviews, and if there are any it’ll be the default tab selected. You can rate a product from 1-5 stars, and there is a text area for writing the actual review. As of now, you may only write a review if you have purchased a product. This is to cut down on fake or spam reviews, but we might revisit this in the future. If you have any ideas for allowing anyone to write reviews without having a bunch of bogus reviews in the system, please comment below! There already exists a flag for if a reviewer has actually purchased the thing (which will be helpful if and when we do open things up), but there’s got to be a better way…

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This is my personal plea: please write reviews! There are a bunch of fun computer science-y problems that come along with reviews. They are already sorted by “helpfulness” on the page, but as we start to get more ratings how do we sort products? This turns out to be not as trivial a problem as you might think!

So please, write reviews. Rate products. Give me a fun data set to play with :)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new reviews feature of the site. If you have purchased from SparkFun before, I highly encourage you to go to the My Products page and write a review for a product you have purchased!


Comments 23 comments

  • This may or may not be a good idea, but what if you used the “Was this review helpful?” buttons to control the relative weight of the reviews - yes would increase the weight, no would decrease it. So if there was a product with two reviews - one 5 star and one 1 star - and twenty people thought the 5 star review was helpful but the 1 star wasn’t, then the total product review would be closer to 5 stars. You’d probably have to ensure someone couldn’t go and repeatedly hit the yes or no button several times to artificially bump up a reviews weight. Anyway, just a thought.

  • sweet! This going to be so valuable as time goes on.

    As far as “If you have any ideas for allowing anyone to write reviews without having a bunch of bogus reviews in the system, please comment below!” It’s possible people like myself, have received some sparkfun products from a competition, hacker event, etc, and could have a valuable review - immediately I think of implementing a sort of “proof you have it” like a code written on the PCB silk screen like a serial number - but this is only going to work for red boards, and isn’t backwards compatible. Instead I would require an account, with a purchase history > 0, to write a review for something not in their purchase list, and maybe add a “Where did you get this” field that has a minimum amount of words requirement as well.

  • I have a slightly related request. Would it be possible to combine comments/reviews from different SKUs together when the products are essentially the same? For example, you sell those colored LED ring pushbutton switches, but they each have their own comments. Probably most of the comments for all the different colored switches could be combined. There have been times I’ve had to open tabs for each version of a product to read all the reviews. Thanks for all your hard work and continued innovation, both in your products and especially website design!

  • I bought part PRT-10471 which was replaced with PRT-11856 and was looking to write a review. I don’t think the changes were that drastic, however, I’m unable to review.

    • Apple’s App Store (and the independent Dashboard Widgets website, too, I think) has a feature where you can choose which version of the product you want to see reviews for. I think when you post a review, it either categorizes it by the current version you have installed or the current version in the store. I think something similar would work here, with a manual version chooser if it’s not in the person’s purchase history. (But then you’d probably have to have a way to help people determine which version they have—it’s not always obvious.)

  • The only question I have about the “proof you have it” thing is for those who buy the product from one of the various Sparkfun resellers. (I believe other companies do resell Sparkfun stuff, right?) I’m assuming they won’t have the flag set in their account, right?

    • (I believe other companies do resell Sparkfun stuff, right?)

      Yes. That’s why SparkFun sells products in retail packages.

      For proof, just brainstorming here, but maybe people could upload a photo of their item and have someone confirm it? Maybe require them to display their username in the photo—that’s generally considered sufficient proof on reddit, anyway.

  • sweet! This going to be so valuable as time goes on.

  • I rated a product by stars, but I didn’t write anything in the review section. I changed my mind and decided that I want to write out a review after all. I cannot, for the life of me, find any way to do this. It gives me no option to go back and change it. It only gives me the option to edit if I had previously written something.

  • As for the spam problem, I suggest allowing reviews from users not known to have purchased the product where their account is greater than a certain age (e.g. 3 months) and they have past purchases (whose amount exceeds some threshold. e.g. $50). This makes it impractical for spammers to create accounts, and the criteria essentially corresponds to long-time customers.

  • Nice, now how about a “Q & A” column for questions about the product? There are many questions buried in comments that have never gotten answers; this feature might clean up the comments further and make the questions easier to address. And if you want to go all Amazon about it, you could also send out emails to people that have purchased the product so they could help answer the questions too.

    • I guess I’ll take the grumpy old man (grump) role here and wonder in a wall of text if implementation of your suggestion is not just diluting the public feedback pool even further.
      While it may seem a good idea to diversify and categorize things, it also means that things become more decentralized and inherently more confusing.

      As you mention, there are currently questions in the comments feed that have received no answers. This might be because it’s missed by the customer support staff (I don’t think there’s any claim that the comments section are an official support line of communication), or because nobody knows the answer, or any other reason. Unless a Q&A section inherently means that it will be addressed, even if it’s just a “sorry, we don’t know”, that’s not really going to change anything; worse, now there’s just one more place for questions to not be answered - and that is in addition to the reviews section.

      Which may prompt the question “why would there be a question in a review?”, but then you would have to be new to the internet. It does, however, offer me a segue to my grump view on the categorization part. People don’t generally categorize that well. Part because of Sorites paradox, but also part because given a place to post things, people will use those places to post things, even if it’s not the things you were hoping for. While a reviews section may seem like a logical place to have users' reviews of items that go into the particulars of the product, any problems they faced with it, how they solved it, or how it fit the bill exactly (as suggested in the news post), you’re just as likely to get reviews such as - and I’m only using this as an example - “You can’t find these anywhere else.” Which may very well be valuable feedback, but can hardly be defined as ‘a review’.

      But as per the aforementioned paradox: at what point does a review become a comment, or a comment become a review? ( or a question, for that matter, even if not explicitly stated ). The grump in me thinks that the easiest solution would be to not attempt to categorize things. Not just no hard categorization, but also no tags - at least as long as having a certain tag means the post is treated inherently different.
      The “I wish people who want to post reviews could do so knowing that their information is more readily presented, weighted higher than a random comment, and in turn will be better able to convey their information to other users / prospective buyers”-guy in me, on the other hand, knows that not having some manner of distinction has demonstrated that my wish is unlikely to be fulfilled.

      This is not an easy problem to solve, and most solutions that work do require more, and ongoing, effort. Liken it to spam - there’s anti-spam measures that can be taken, but then that can also hit legitimate users. Yet easing up on it means you get more spam, and you either have to patrol or rely on the public to report posts (and I do, whenever I can).
      Yet unlike spam, there is a much less detrimental issue in having reviews mixed in with comments. Yes, it means having to read through generic comments, questions, etc. to find users' hands-on experiences with the product. On the other hand, those generic comments may be valuable in your purchasing decision, and those questions may be questions you too have or didn’t even know that you should have.
      The even grumpier but not necessarily even older man in me also looks at the up-front effort required for this. We’re already seeing some of the technical issues discussed here in terms of who to allow to review a product, the reviews tab being the default visible causing certain link breakage ( I still blame sgrace ;) ), the RSS feed lacking product reference, and probably several other gotchas while the payoff at this time is uncertain.

      Some of the other technical issues are ones that have existed even before the reviews contemplation - i.e. how do you handle user feedback from older versions of the product that very likely still applies to the current version? How do you handle user feedback for one product (LED type X, red) that is equally applicable to another product (LED type X, green)?

      Hopefully these are all things that will be addressed and far smarter people than this grump will find a way to make that all work smoothly, or perhaps it will work out well over time - as some have propounded - as SFE and its customers adapt to these new features. It’s a sincere hope, but I’m cynical.

      So what does the grump in me suggest? I don’t know - I certainly do not have all the answers, and there are plenty of questions. Maybe if there was a Q & A column…

  • I really like the system, and can’t wait until there’s a good bunch of reviews going around! The only comment I have is that there’s no link back to the main product page from the review page. I forgot what I was referencing when I wrote the Bus Pirate review, but I had to go back and forth a few times. Perhaps the big picture should link back to the main page?

    There also seems to be a lot of concern regarding leaving reviews for products you have but didn’t buy (bought as a gift, from someone else, etc.). I would rather lose several good reviews than gain a few bad ones, but that’s just my opinion.

  • if I buy a product for someone (and they make something with it), then are they allow to write a review for that product?

    • That’s the problem we’re trying to figure out: they can review it under any account that has purchased the product, so they could using your account but not their own. There’s a lot of ideas floating around here to solve it, but this is another great use case!

      • Perhaps a way to transfer ownership of a product to a different account? I think that would likely be too much work to implement for too little gain, though.

  • Thank-you! This is something I think your site has been missing for a long time. I mean, how the heck do I decide between 3 or 4 different humidity sensors without downloading the datasheets 1 by 1 and comparing them. Hopefully people can distill down the pluses and minuses of comparable products such that we can make generalized decisions about purchases.

    Also, I’m not sure if I see the value of non-verified reviews. Enough people buy directly from sparkfun I would assume that the number of reviews should be sufficient for each product to give customers and idea of the worth of a product (perhaps the actobotics line may be the exception).

    After finals I’m going to write reviews like crazy.

  • You could do a “Verified Purchase” system, kind of like Amazon. And those reviews will always appear on top, before non-verified-purchase reviews. You can also have a simple filter system, so that if someone only wants to read reviews from verified purchasers, they can check a box at the top of the page.

    • Yup! This is built-in currently, but reviews are limited to folks who have purchased until we figure out a better way.

      Here’s a question: do non-verified purchaser reviews count toward the rating average? What if there’s one verified purchaser who rates a product five stars, but ten unverified purchasers who give it one star? I’m imagining a system where verified-purchaser reviews have more weight in the average, but then the whole thing becomes non-obvious and it can be confusing as to why a product has a certain rating.

      • Once you get enough data, I think you can figure out a good weighted value.

      • Weighting stars is tricky, some people might see it as skewing the ratings. Or just downright confusing, as you said. Perhaps the star rating seen is only based on verified purchases, until you click on the Reviews tab and select something to the effect of “Show Me All Reviews”. There are plenty of reasons why you might have a valid review of an item but you didn’t buy it from Sparkfun. Obvious example: Adafruit items. But if someone purchased the item from Sparkfun, then it’s more likely they used it with other Sparkfun items, and again it’s more likely that their review will be most helpful to me as I browse the site. So I would rather see those first.

    • I’m thinking something like this might be the best approach. Maybe have a “stars from verified purchases” and a separate one for “all reviews”. I’m thinking a lot of your products are available from other vendors [cough, cough, Adafruit, cough, cough, Digi-Key], and sometimes I’ll order from one of them. (I can think of at least once when I included something in an order to Adafruit that I’d normally order from Spark Fun when I was trying to get my total up to their “free shipping” thresh hold.)

      And, of course, with the holiday season upon us, there’s the case where someone orders something from Spark Fun to put under the holiday conifer…

      • This applies, I would guess, even more to people outside of the US. Shipping and taxes makes it much better for me to buy via a local (at least within the EU) distributor. It would be nice to be able to review, at least the SparkFun made products.

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