Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sortable -- a great tool for deciding what (camera/phone/laptop/tv) to buy

Sortable is a cool little company that I’ve been following for awhile.

Sortable product comparison tool
They produce an efficient, beautifully laid out ‘decision-engine’ that helps users rank and compare consumer gadgets.

I’ve found their site extremely useful for doing research on phones and cameras.

You can easily look up everything you want to know about a product, compare it to the competition, as well as view a high-level summary of why you might be interested. It’s all about ferreting out what will suit your needs and make you happy, from a sea of competing gadgets.

I highly recommend checking out Sortable.

Continuing growth and product evolution

Comprised of a small team based in my home town of Waterloo, the company was originally incarnated as Snapsort. Snapsort and its sister sites were relaunched at the beginning of this year under the umbrella Sortable brand. Then in July, they were acquired by Rebellion Media. Positive word of mouth -- like this post, for example -- has fuelled usage to over 17 million visitors and 41 million recommendations.

Their site has been evolving features and getting better all the time -- and I love that it happens to be in directions that I agree with.

For example, I had previously written (about Snapsort), that they should incorporate:
a curated set of links to external in-depth reviews from major third parties, e.g. CNET,, Engadget, and so forth. [...] Perhaps a separate 'Reviews' tab? 
What happened? Sortable has a Reviews tab for products, that excerpts quotes from major reviews as well as comments from the discussion community -- and links to the source material.

I also wrote,
The [one product] price comparison feature is presently weak...
They addressed that criticism by essentially eliminating the feature and quoting a single representative product price from Amazon. It’s a lot simpler and less confusing this way.

Lastly, I wrote,
I’m curious to see whether in the future they'll expand their offering to cover other product types, like cars or televisions or mobile phones and tablets. 
Guess what, Sortable features sections for phones, tablets, laptops and televisions (in addition to the seminal camera engine. They tested a car comparison site too, but it looks like it didn’t pan out). I presume that they are going to continue to carefully select and expand to additional domains for their decision engine.

So I commend the Sortable team for continually refining their tool. I’m sure it was just a coincidence, but it’s super fun when a company seems to read your mind about where to take a product.

Online discussions: building a community

Gadget geeks love to discuss products.

Sortable invites people to post questions and answers
A relatively new feature of Sortable is their discussion area, which provides a vaguely StackExchange (or Quora)-like forum for posting questions and answering other people’s questions.

Answers can be voted on by other users, so the best answers tend to bubble up to the top.

At the moment the discussion areas are fairly sparse, but if it takes off (and it ought to, given the volume of users each month) I can see this becoming a very complementary aspect to the site.

Recency Weakness

Sortable’s ranking and sorting algorithm sometimes generates erratic results, particularly for newly released products -- for example, the new iPhone 5 is currently way down on their list of top phones -- but that tends to be something that self-rectifies itself over time, as their database gets populated with information and reviews.

This is a design tradeoff I reluctantly accept -- higher quality detailed results over less optimized holistic output. In a similar fashion, I choose to use an alternate default search engine, Duckduckgo, which is superior to Google in many ways, but is also weak on recency.

In any case while the score rankings are occasionally debatable, the detailed product views and the comparison tool are quality resources.

Contest -- win an iPad 3!

Sortable is holding a contest in which you can win an iPad3! I love contests, don’t you? Enter hereFull disclosure: I’ve entered this contest too, and the above is (presumably) my referral link. If you don’t want me to get extra entries, use this link.

tldr: Summary

Of the product research and comparison tools that are out there, for the particular domains it services, I think Sortable is the best in class at what it does. Their site aesthetic is lovely and makes me want to click on stuff.

If you’re shopping for a gadget, check out Sortable!