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TestFreaks, launched at the end of last year, is a consumer review site that aggregates technical information and opinions about a range of products.
It was founded by Kristofer Arwin, Magnus Wiberg and Martin Alexanderson, all of whom previously founded PriceRunner back in 1999.
We talked to Kristofer about his plans for the TestFreaks, and how he aims to make it into the world's biggest product review site...
Can you tell me about TestFreaks - how does it differ from other review and comparison sites?
When we started PriceRunner many years ago our goal was to build the best price comparison site out there. This time, with TestFreaks,our ambition is to build the world's largest review web site, both in terms of completeness (number of reviews) and audience.
Most comparison sites look the same today, and not much has happened in this space for many years. We think that there is a great opportunity to apply concepts and technology that have taken other sectors on the internet to new levels, into our space. We want to simplify product research.
One thing that sets TestFreaks apart from our competitors is our global perspective. We are currently present in 13 different languages and markets, and gather information from more than 50 different markets. This makes as unique and has a positive impact on many things.
For example; the 'FreakScore'. If a product is reviewed in Japanese on the Japanese market, that review will be a part of the information cloud from which we calculate the FreakScore on testfreaks.co.uk as well as on testfreaks.com .
This means that the FreakScore is based on more sources, and as a result is more accurate than any other website's rating for any particular product. We want the FreakScore to be recognised and referenced to as the most relevant, independent and trustworthy rating of a product.
How are FreakScores calculated?
The FreakScore is calculated with an algorithm that factors things such as how old the product is, when each review was written, and the characteristics of the particular category. It also puts different weight on different sources, e.g if Cnet or DPreview has reviewed a product and rated it 10 out of 10 that will have a big impact on the FreakScore.
If a Russian user review has rated the same product 4 out of 10 that will have less impact on the FreakScore. As we aggregate from 50 countries instead of just the home market, there's for the 'Freak' user also a lot more reviews and information to research. We are also working on a number of projects involving advanced language tools and semantic analysis that will deliver truly comprehensive and accurate information to all our users, no matter what country they are from.
Another thing that makes us better or different on testfreaks.com is that we offer a more complete price comparison than anyone else. This is quite fun as we really don't focus on this area; we just have a smarter approach.
However, what we do is that we merge price feeds from three partners; Shopping, Pricerunner and Pricescan. We only add a price from a merchant if it is not already in our listing. From a user perspective, it means that we are better at finding lower prices than anyone else on the US market.
We have received a lot of positive feedback on our look and feel, and usability is an area that we prioritise. However, there are so many features that we want to add, so many things that we want to make better. We are just in the beginning.
Who do you see as your main competitors?
We have a few different categories of competitors. First there are the traditional shopping sites that we compete against, then there are a few review aggregators out there and lastly there are the traditional expert reviewers.
So for the traditional shopping sites, we normally partner with at least one on each market (three in the US at the moment) to give our users the best possible prices.
As for the expert review sites, we are sending them huge amounts of traffic each month so most of them really like us, and we get several emails per week from review sites that want to be seen on TestFreaks. We evaluate each site individually and if they add value they will be included free of charge.
The reviews on the site are mainly for gadgets and electronics. Will this remain the focus or do you plan to include more product categories in future?
Even though we are all gadget freaks at Testfreaks, we are of course looking at more categories for the near future and will soon be adding a lot more categories that are outside of the electronics section.
At the moment there is still much to be done to improve the quality and usability of each category, so we will put a lot of efforts in to both these fields for the coming months.
The site is still in beta – when do you plan to launch officially?
That's a good question. We have such high demands ourselves with the site so we haven't set a date for when we are going to remove the beta status. I think we still need to improve on three areas before we say that we are officially launched.
First, we are still missing some of the basics, such as great filtering functionality. Secondly we need to improve the quality on our current categories and finally, add one or two killer features.
What kind of feedback have you had from beta users?
All in all we have received positive feedback for the site which makes us feel confident that we are on the right track with TestFreaks. As I said, there are still a few things missing and this is also common feedback from our users.
Some complaints about the overall speed of the site have also been brought to us and during this autumn we will be able to deliver a faster experience with TestFreaks.
How many people have been using the site?
Currently, we are in 13 markets. We received 1m uniques in June and for August, we will reach close to 2 million uniques, so we are in a high growth phase right now.
With six to ten new markets before the end of the year and more quality content, we think we can continue or improve the current growth.
How is TestFreaks funded?
TestFreaks is funded by NorthZone Ventures and we have raised a total of €4m.
How does the site make money? Do you have any partnerships with retailers?
Our business model is to partner up with other price comparison websites on each market and do a revenue split, which is working out well for us. Besides that we have a few affiliate deals and some contextual ads on the site.
We don't want to clutter up the site with a lot of ads so we focus on delivering as many prices from different merchants instead, which seems to be appreciated by our users.
How do you think independent reviews affect customers’ shopping habits?
We have great connections with many of the top expert reviewers, and there are many examples of how a review really can help shoppers find better products and stay away from failures.
I think many of the shoppers might end up spending less and getting more but I think there is the other side of it too; that they spend more on accessories to further improve the experience of their product.
Do retailers have the option of blocking or editing certain comments?
The only comments we remove are spam. Later on, our users will be more in charge of voting up or down reviews/comments depending on how helpful they are.
We see a lot of user comments for a product that are in fact more a negative comment about their shopping experience with a particular merchant and that doesn't really add value for the readers in that section.
Can anyone leave a product review?
At the moment you can only write Wiki descriptions and participate in our Q&A section. We are adding the possibility for users to write their own reviews later on this year, but I can't go in to detail on exactly how it's going to be implemented.
How do you ensure the reliability of your reviews?
One of the greatest ways to reassure a consumer of the products pros and cons is by adding reviews from as many different sources and reviewers as possible.
We are currently collecting and analysing reviews from over 50 countries so I think our FreakScore can really begin to stand on its own in terms of trust and reliability.
How do you incentivise people to leave reviews on TestFreaks?
Today there is really not that much incentive for a user to participate on our site and this is something that we are working on. We want to build a site where users feel rewarded for participating and we aim to do that.
Do you see a need for a code of practice for reviewers or review sites?
I think it is always good to have diversity when it comes to product reviews. However, it's extremely important that reviewers are ethical and don't do reviews just based on what manufactures are willing to give them for free.
We have started an interview series where we talk to the top reviewers in each niche to get their view and from the first interviews we have done seem to show that at least they have high ethical standards.
I'm sure there is a mid segment of hobby/semi-professional reviewers who do reviews based on what's delivered freely to them, and might feel a need to reciprocate the favour instead of being completely objective.
Do you have any plans for a mobile version?
We think the mobile space is really interesting, especially in markets such as Japan, which is in the forefront of mobile web usage.
There are quite a few iPhones in the office at the moment so I would be surprised if we don't develop an iPhone app rather soon.