The most honest and in-depth reviews of outdoor sports equipment on the planet.

Thoroughness vs. Usefulness

Intro

If you’ve read through some of the Comments Sections of our reviews, you may have noticed that we get quite a few good questions and interesting comments from our readers.

And we often find that a reader has brought to light an interesting point about the piece we’ve tested, or has raised a broader question that’s worth considering and discussing.

But some of these comments and questions can get buried deep down in a particular thread, so we’ve created this new section to feature some of the particularly interesting conversations that are taking place around Blister.

This week, we’ll highlight a request made by Blister reader, Tobias, in the Comments Section of our 14-15 Blizzard Cochise review.

 

Tobias writes:

I love your ski reviews, they’re pretty much the reference in the business right now when it comes to attention to details and asking the right questions when testing. It’s not an easy task, but you do it extremely well. Great job, guys and girls.

But being a picky prick, I would like to see a more detailed definition of the respective skis mounting locations. Most skis are tested on the factory recommended line, which is fine and the way I think skis should be tested initially. But it would be great, and make the reviews even better, to know where that factory line is located from true center. It says a lot about the intended character of the ski, and, well, us geeks have another thing to geek out about.

 

Jonathan Ellsworth’s reply:

Thank you, Tobias, your remarks are much appreciated.

As for the “picky prick” part … yours isn’t an unreasonable request, and it’s something we’ve discussed. But this is why, to date, we haven’t, always added that info into every review:

Generally, we’ve only gone into mount locations when we think it’s necessary (for example, in every single review of Salomon’s Q / Quest skis), because (1) our reviews are already long (2) our reviews take an absurdly long time to put together, and (3) simply knowing whether a ski’s recommended point is -5 or -7 of true center isn’t necessarily all that illuminating by itself, independent of rocker line stats and splay numbers.

So we’re a bit hesitant to start also incorporating all of that additional info (and jumping down that rabbit hole), since (1) each review would start to look more and more like a term paper, and (2) we wouldn’t want someone to dismiss a ski just because he or she thinks it’s too far forward or too far back from true center.

Because in our actual product testing, if we find that a ski doesn’t work well on the line, we’ll always adjust the mount location and provide that info in the review.

Ultimately, your request raises a really important question that we spend a lot of time thinking about. We already are writing reviews that are typically 1500 – 3000 words (sometimes longer), and we certainly could write 10,000 word reviews—though we’d have to invent a way to function on zero sleep.

So the question is, How much information – or how much *more* information – needs to be included to produce a genuinely helpful / useful review? At what point does providing more and more detail actually detract from the usefulness of a review?

 

Thoughts, Tobias? What do the rest of you think?

 

 

20 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Tomi December 2, 2014 Reply

    Hey Jonathan,
    as long as it would just be a plus information I think it is totally okay, to put this into the beginning list of the review. It is also ok (and necessary) however, to adress the topic if the mounting location differs from factory recommended and it influences how the skis behave in a positive or negative way. But as this is the standard, I guess this stays the same ;) So stoked for winter again :)
    off topic: longer reviews are always welcome :)
    Cheers, Tomi

  2. Mr. P December 2, 2014 Reply

    Dear Blister, your reviews have been great, and I am not even a big skier, climber, runner… Your 101 articles are off the charts good and break through the gas bag marketing that fogs product selection.

    The thoroughness of your reviews allow me to pick up details that connect with how I ride, conditions I ride, and what I am looking to gain. And that is kind of the key. We all have different skill levels, terrains, and goals, and looking to those ranges help inform a lot of people who are looking for more than just the most trendy product.

    You can also create a jump link to a conclusions paragraph for those who are too impatient or ADD for the detailed information.

    It seems your competitive advantage in the review market space is quality. High quality. Keep up the good work.

    Bonus points for your reviewers responding to comments!

    P

  3. eric December 2, 2014 Reply

    Your reviews are about the only outlet out there (that I know of) for detailed non-biased reviews of equipment that actually concern the functionality of the equipment in a nuanced and comparative way, bravo! Concision is relative, your reviews, at whatever length, are concise compared, say, to having to read through a long thread in EpicSki, or someplace like that, to actually cull the useful stuff from the assorted dross. For whatever it is worth, at least one pair of my skis I had mounted at +1 as a result of your reviews and comments on that ski, and not at the factory recommended point. Perhaps a general piece on mounting locations, and the effects changing them tends to make given a skis overall geometry would be useful, I don’t think you should be expected to test every ski at 5 different mounting locations, say (but we should know what location it was tested with)! It may be hard to remember that for many readers your site serves two related, but distinct, functions: straight useful information to help inform potential purchases, and simply reading about stuff we care about and are interested in–almost an aesthetic function! It helps us daydream about gear, about skiing, about travel, and for that purpose, the longer and the more detailed the better! For me at least you virtually always strike the right balance, enough detail to be not just actually useful, but also a fun read, yet concise enough to actually be helpful when is really ready to plunk down some cash and purchase something, and you are doing your “due diligence” research. For equipment, such as skis, at some point there could be too much detail, because you reach the point where the responsiveness of the ski and its skied characteristics are really indexed as much to the skier as generically of the ski itself. This makes me wonder to what degree the reviews of skis are not so much biased, but simply a function of, the expertise of the skier, and their individual style. Many of us (I suspect!) are good skiers, but not great skiers. Anyhow this may be a topic for another day, keep those reviews coming!

    • Author

      Thanks for this feedback, Eric, and I’ll say a bit more about your question at the end in my reply to Mike Beauchemin below. But no question, skiing style is a factor, which is why we try to offer a 2nd or even 3rd review from a different reviewer.

      Having said that, while Jason Hutchins and I are (for example) on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of how we ski and in terms of what skis we like most, he and I are getting quite good at assessing what someone of his style (or mine) will like and dislike about a given ski. And I think being able to do that is the hallmark of a particularly good (and a particularly helpful) reviewer. I know many incredible skiers (and bikers and climbers, etc.) who just aren’t very good at doing this – being able to accurately surmise how other skiers / skiers of other styles or interests or goals or experience levels would assess a particular ski. But more on that below…

  4. Ben December 2, 2014 Reply

    I enjoy the reviews as they are. I wouldn’t mention any more details in reviews unless it warranted special attention like the Salomon Q skis.

    By the way, regarding those Salomon Q skis, per the 2015 shop manual they moved the recommended line on the Q-105 and Q-115 backwards up to 2cm depending on size. Q-Lab is similar to new Q-105 line.

    • Author

      Interesting, Ben. Except that I, at least, didn’t have a particularly good experience when I moved the bindings back on the Q105. I liked the way the 190 Q Labs skied on the line, but I will get on those again and move them back. It could, actually, counteract that feeling I had that the shovels were a bit too soft in steep, bumped up terrain, at speed…

  5. Tobias December 3, 2014 Reply

    I agree with Tomi. Just a small note in the beginning where that factory recommended line is located from true center would be enough for me. It just puts everything else in the right context knowing of the ski has a lot of setback or is more center mounted. I’m surprised not more ski companies have that info listed on their respective websites. Right now I can only think of Line, Down Skis, and maybe a few more.

    Regarding length vs usefulness. Putting together a ski test of 70+ skis every year for a ski magazine I know a few things about this myself. Print media has a lot of obvious limitations that the web doesn’t, space being one of them. And we take some heat every year for not being thorough enough in our reviews despite conducting a very thorough test with every ski being tested by at least three different skiers and for at least one day each. But then we have to boil that down all that great info we’ve collected to about 100 words each, which is not ideal in any way. The good thing though, is that we have to focus on what’s really important in each and every review for the potential ski buyer, to find what really separates this particular ski from the rest of the pack. There’s no place for elaborating at all, which on the other hand is pretty frustrating for someone like me who likes to get into detail when it comes to gear.

    The web obviously doesn’t have that space limitation, plus you can always include video and several photos with each review to get an in depth look at every ski. Which is awesome. But, the web format also makes it easy to write too much in a review. Which in the end makes it harder for the readers to actually find the relevant info they actually need. It’s a hard balance and not always easy. But in general, you guys do a very good job of giving a true in-depth review each and every ski you put through the wringer. And that takes more than a few words to achieve. After all, this is Blister.

    • Author

      Good comments, Tobias, but your “picky prick” reputation is really going to suffer from all these very reasonable (and nice) remarks.

      Adding more mount info is an additional step for us (sigh), but it also comes with an additional benefit: readers will know exactly where we were on a ski, and can then measure themselves, ensuring that some misprinted rec line on a topsheet or a misplaced mark on a sidewall won’t mess them up.

  6. Blister Member
    MIKE BEAUCHEMIN December 3, 2014 Reply

    I love the reviews and read them religiously…However, I am applying for the new position of OFG Reviewer. That would be “Old Fat Guy” Reviews. You see, there is a fairly substantial group of us out here in ski land that, while we love to know that a ski “rails” in Taos, buttters in Japanese Powder, and slurves in
    …wait, I think that’s a baseball term…Anyway, You get the idea…We love those things, but we are most definitely never going to DO those things…The fact is, the only pillow I hit is the one in my bed every night and I can carve, but usually at Thanksgiving and then only when pressured…White meat or dark? You need somebody in my age and weight group to tell you if a ski can make you look better than you really are and if you can put on your boots and not get a cramp or pull something important:) Keep up the good work and let me know if my application has been accepted.

    • Author

      Ha, while your application hasn’t been accepted yet, Mike, it hasn’t been rejected yet, either.

      But here’s the thing: we’ve found time and time again over the past several years that being an outstanding skier (or biker or climber, etc) is no guarantee that a person will be an outstanding reviewer. And conversely, being a more intermediate (even if very funny) skier is no guarantee that a person will be an outstanding reviewer, either.

      Instead, there’s a pretty uncommon ability to be able to articulate the nuances of what a ski does and doesn’t do, and the ability to predict how skiers of different abilities and styles will relate to that. And reviewers like Jason Hutchins, Will Brown, Julia Van Raalte, etc, have shown that they can do that – they’ve got an established track record of doing that on this site – despite the fact that they all happen to be very good skiers.

      So all you have to do to get the job, Mike, is prove that you can articulate the nuances of a ski or boot to an intermediate or beginner audience better than a Jason or a Will or a Julia – i.e., write reviews that are more useful to that audience than their reviews are – and you’re in.

  7. Blister Member
    Dave Dubuque December 4, 2014 Reply

    I think Blister does a great job presenting the most defining characteristics of individual products. Discussion of minute detail is saved for articles on underlying technology that’s relevant to whole classes of products (outerwear & boot fitting 101, etc.). And, like P said, you do a great job of responding to comments. Would I read 10,000 words? Probably. At that point, would I be neglecting my other responsibilities? Most certainly. Thanks for helping keep me productive.

  8. Tom December 6, 2014 Reply

    I think Blister reviews strike an excellent balance between usefulness and thoroughness, and good prose. More importantly, from reading through your ski reviews – and I reckon I’ve read most of them – I have gained a deeper understanding of how design influences the way a ski will feel, and whether I might like it.

    Thanks

  9. Roder December 7, 2014 Reply

    Your reviews are fantastic in their detail, the highlight of different performance trade-offs in different pieces of gear, and the thoroughness of testing. They’re so good that I find myself reading reviews of gear in sports that I don’t even do, just for the fun of learning about what makes high end gear in other domains.

    That being said, my big gripe with them is that you never seem to give any piece of gear a genuinely negative review. Highlighting trade-offs is great, but often, a piece of gear’s negatives don’t come close to outweighing the positives — and that is something that is never clear from your reviews. It seems there is often a desire to say something — anything — positive about a piece of gear. My favorite example was a review of one of RAMP’s women’s ski models, where the reviewer had nothing more positive to say than, “You will like this ski if you like this company’s narrative”. At that point, it’s obvious to the reader that you just want to say, “This ski is bad compared to most of its competitors”. But the reluctance to out and say that looks squirmy and violates some of the trust I, as a reader, place In your reviews.

    There have been many suggestions over the years for you to review different pieces of gear, which you promised to look into and then never reviewed. Of course, there are many reasons a ski review might not see the light of day, but the perceived reluctance to say anything negative often makes me wonder — does some of that gear not get a review because you tested it, thought it sucked, and then were reluctant to write anything negative about it?

    • Author

      1st paragraph: Thank you, Roder! That is one of the highest compliments we receive: that some of our readers are reading product reviews in sports they don’t – or don’t yet – participate in. Our goal has always been to make our reviews readable enough and interesting enough that you will, in fact, learn something if you take the time to read them. So thanks again, that means a whole lot.

      2nd paragraph: These are some important charges, and ones I take seriously. First of all, “often” ? I’d put the onus on you to show that to be true (by the way, I’m assuming here that you meant to write that a piece of gear’s “positives” don’t come close to outweighing its “negatives”). As to the “violation of trust” claim, well, I actually don’t believe you. Because I don’t believe that you can point to a single review where you can argue that we were attempting to mislead.

      With respect to RAMP, I just read that review again, and I think you’ve picked a very poor example to try to make your point. Our reviewer’s criticisms in that piece are extremely clear and well articulated. And as in the case of every negative review we publish, we go over every word and every clause to make sure we are prepared to stand by those criticisms. (Because, as you’ll see in the comments section of that review, we will and do receive blow back. See also my review of the Dynastar Cham 117. Some people weren’t too happy, and it’s always fun to wake up to anonymous, ad hominem attacks from strangers who felt that we were being far too negative.)

      Read that whole RAMP review again, and honestly tell me that Julia’s conclusion isn’t totally consistent and fitting with everything she articulates above it.

      Our job is to locate a piece of equipment as accurately as possible – detail those performance tradeoffs – and give our readers enough information to let THEM decide if this sounds like something they are interested in. And that is precisely what we did there.

      3rd paragraph: Not a reluctance, just lots of factors. First of all, we currently publish about 450 reviews a year, and every one of those reviews ranges from ~1000 – 5000 words – and each is a fairly major production. A number of our reviewers are also dealing with other jobs, graduate school, etc. And sometimes snow conditions don’t cooperate with us. In some instances, too, the manufacturers have made us return gear before we have put enough time on it to write a review that we could stand by. So those are just a few of the reasons why a review might not see the light of day.

      But the idea that we have shown over the past four years a “reluctance to say anything negative” is silly. What we don’t tend to do is rant and throw zingers – we instead try to be honest, fair, and clear in our claims – whether those claims are positive or negative – so that, above all, we can help our readers understand whether a product is the sort of thing that he or she is looking for. And I will stand by – and am very proud of – our track record on that front.

      I wrote a piece a couple years ago about our review process, and it might be of interest to you:

      http://blistergearreview.com/features/jonathan-ellsworth-editor-in-chief/2

      Anyway, I sincerely thank you for your comments and for taking the time to write. If I haven’t managed to convince you, I hope I’ve at least been able to clarify a bit where we’re coming from.

      • Blister Member
        Tomi December 9, 2014 Reply

        … and that is why we read Blister ;)

  10. Blister Member
    Motown December 9, 2014 Reply

    Hey Gang,

    Love the reviews, thoroughness, etc., but if there’s one thing that I could offer that might be missing from the equation, it’s clear & unambiguous definitions of the nomenclature involved. Simply put, a glossary (this would even make a great tab on your website!). And I don’t mean for things like rocker or sidecut or splay (although this would be the logical place to put those definitions as well), but rather for the decidedly less tangible, quantifiable terms such as “playful”, “stable”, or “jibby” for example. Over the year, i’ve developed my own sense of what these words mean to me and how they may or may not relate to the behaviour & function of my equipment, but back when I first started turning to review sites for help, i had a difficult time grasping exactly what people meant by that stuff. Yes, I could usually forge some loose impression of what they meant, but their subjective nature made it very difficult to confidently gain a proper understanding of what was specifically being implied by each term, leaving an inexperienced reader to surmise such info on their own (not an easy task for uninitiated, which I’m willing to wager is a substantial amount of the people coming to these types of sites). Anyway, that it… otherwise, dandy work. Oh, actually wait, a flex scale (1-10 type thing) for ski stiffness. I appreciate inherent complexity & difficulty in quantifying flex, however since manufacturers are essentially unable to assign these types of numbers themselves (as it would all be relative to what each company considered a 10 or a 1), this is precisely where it’d be great to be able to rely on your guys — you see all kinds of skis from all kinds of manufacturers, so your notion of 1 & 10 could be a little more uniformly applied. Even if it’s just as simple as “1 being the softest ski we’ve ever flexed, and 10 being the stiffest”, it would help to put some practical measure to flex, arguably one of the most important characteristics a ski. You could still delve into the intricacies of each ski’s flex pattern in your review, but a number describing overall flex might make it easier for the reader to place each ski. Personally, I find the “it’s slightly stiffer than this, but a touch softer than that” to be somewhat impractical, especially since there are many of us with limited access to/experience with all the various different skis out there. Ok, just my two cents. Thanks again! Hope you get a million cm’s this winter!

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