Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meet SolomonSays : All the review you will ever need

This post has been coming for a few months, but somehow I could never get around to writing it. But a certain milestone has been reached today that makes me want to sit down and write this. A minor milestone, no doubt, but something is better than nothing right? Over the last 10 months or so I have been working on a website called SolomonSays. This is a blog-in-website-shape where I review books, travel destinations, and eateries (though I am yet to get any traction on the last one). The milestone – 100 likes on the facebook page.

I have referred earlier to the broken-ness of the crowd-sourced or community driven model of getting reviews of products. It is great at getting lots of info and scales insanely, but none of this data is in a very usable form (short of going through tons of reviews). And apparently, I’m not the only one cribbing either. The other problem is that one has to go to so many different sites to get reviews on different things despite the fact that all these websites are doing the exact same thing – gathering user generated review content.

I first faced this problem while looking up book recommendations and reviews. So I set out to do what I thought was the right of reviewing things. Which, I believe, is the old fashioned way of having a team of dedicated reviewers writing comprehensive reviews about whatever it is that is being reviewed. I believe that no one should have to go through 300 one-off personal experiences to get an idea what a new restaurant or car is like. These are critical elements of a discussion, but do not comprise a coherent review. Combining the two approaches, i.e. getting a community to offer their individual opinions around a central review, is the clear winner IMO.

My original goal was extraordinarily ambitious – SolomonSays.in would review absolutely _everything_ that can be reviewed. Books, Restaurants, Home appliances, vehicles, were all fair game. While I realized that actually doing this wouldn’t be possible all at once, that was where I believed I wanted to get to. Such a website, if it could be created, would occupy a unique position between Wikipedia and Amazon – the reviews would be free, and we would be able to facilitate any purchase the reader wanted through affiliate partners. But the content would be the business. Data would come first. ALWAYS. I still hold to the original unbounded scope of the website - but getting there is being done only in baby steps.

All MBA and otherwise savvy reader will have seen that the above isn’t much of a business plan – write reviews till you have enough content to drive steady traffic through SEO, and then try to convert that traffic into sales. In all honesty, I didn’t think too much in terms of a business idea (I still don’t). I was extremely excited by the idea of having all this data under one roof, the day job wasn’t too interesting at the time, so I just ran with it. One of my friends whom I initially discussed this with still hasn’t stopped harassing me about monetization.

The time spent working on this has been very exciting, and very tiring. I essentially have two jobs, so I get to hang out with my friends a lot less that I used to. For all that, the learning has been tremendous (I have written earlier about the technical experience). But now I am paid to read books (not yet really, but soon will be, I hope J), and writing about what I read clears things up in my head too. Besides, there’s no better feeling than when drops a line saying how useful they found something that I wrote. 

At this small occasion, I thank everyone who has supported me thus far (Special mention – Aditya Mangla, Sid Reddy, Sreejith, Kalpana, and Sin City). Do drop me a line with your ideas, suggestions, and review requests (or if you are willing to share your beer). Random gossip and philosophical musings are welcome too. 

Whatever I code or write is only half the answer. The rest of the awesomeness comes from your experiences and participation. I will continue to bring more information to this party. Hope you’ll stay. Let’s clean up this morass of online reviewing!