Saturday, June 15, 2013


In the past three days, I've gone from supermarket to supermarket searching out an obscure variety of toilet paper, I've run to cookware stores in search of a certain frying pan, and ordered wiper blades and a slew of other items from Amazon. I'm actually going to return the frying pan because once I settled down and my eyes cleared I realized I don't even really need it. I've gone completely out of my mind in a consumerist frenzy.

Such is the power of the terrifyingly sticky web site The Sweethome, which reviews household goods. It's hardly an unusual proposition, but these guys have hit upon the perfect formula, by:

Reviewing a catchy assortment of products not already reviewed to death
I don't need more opinions on Roomba, Game of Thrones, or Toyota Camry. But motor oil, ice cube trays, and LED bulbs? You bet!

Providing a meta synopsis of the usual web dross reviews
I can (and do) spend two hours surfing and weighing web and other reviews before buying stuff, but Sweethome does this for me - and, importantly, seems to do a thoughtful, thorough job of it.

Striking the right tone of smart, level-headed reviewing
There's a temperate, methodical approach here, and the reviews go fairly broad into the constellation of options. What's more, there's a good balance of science and subjective opinion. Consumer Reports is too left-brained, and most web reviews are too right-brained. This one's a "just-right".

Relieving consumer frustration
There's so much hyper-shitty Chinese merchandise on the markets to cut through that it's easy to feel a sense of hopelessness as one shops for household staples. Remember those stainless steel steamer baskets that last forever? You can't buy a decent one anymore.

I actually hate to send you there at this moment, because their featured review, "The Best Sponge", is the only bad one I've seen. Scotch Brites are too soft on one side, too abrasive on the other, and they clog up and fall apart (all over your dishes and pots) in no time. I've found perfection using a Dobie Pad for most tasks, and a copper Chore Boy for killer ones. Of course one of the innate problems with these sorts of reviews is that when your task is to review X, you're necessarily tunnel-visioned from offering solutions of X + Y. That's what leads to anointing tepid compromises such as Scotch Brites.

I can remember my excitement when I first came across Consumer Reports as a teenager, and Sweethome feels a lot like that. Only this incorporates the chaotic Web Hive Mind, while reflecting the judgement of a smart person who's put the time into doing exactly the research I myself would opposed to a panel of CR geeks performing weirdly arcane tests. If you followed CR advice over the years, you'd have made out pretty poorly. But most of the tips on Sweethome seem canny. Except those sponges.


Tom Meg said...

Those sponges do suck for dish washing, but I like them in the bathroom and for generic surface wiping. Lately, I've been mentally assembling an emergency kit based on the recommendations on their sister site, Wirecutter.

Jim Leff said...

That sounds useful in the event of mental emergencies!

Dave said...

Dobies must have quite the copyright. I've never seen a suitable substitute for them.

Unknown said...

Jim, what are the examples of CR reviews that would have led one astray?

Jim Leff said...

Unknown, wish I had the prodigious memory (or deep-seated disgruntlement) to list every top-rated answering machine, car horn, or which turned out (even sometimes conceded by CR in follow-ups) hideously crappy.

As I said in the article, CR's hard-headed scientific approach isn't quite enough. Plus, the science requires making lots of choices about what's tested. I'm sure they always offer good data on desk drawer durability, because they open/shut them 10,000 times. But there's more nuance to consumer goods, and judging that requires normal people putting things to normal (not crisply scientific) use. And, in this age, to high-level observation of normal people reporting normal use via web reviews (with a keen eye for picking out shills)

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