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Irregular quality of DVD reviews

Old 01-13-03, 10:37 AM
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Irregular quality of DVD reviews

Even though I'm not an active participant in the forums, I am a long-time DVDTalk reader (about two and a half years).

What really makes DVDTalk outstanding is its DVD reviews: The number of reviews, the variety of topics, and especially the quality of their reviews.

I have to admit I am very underwhelmed with the quality of some of the recent reviews. They are too short, not particularly well written, and they don't even tell us some essential information such as the movie's aspect ratio, whether it's anamorphic or not, type of sound available, etc. They are what I would expect from an informal post in the DVD forum or in the newsgroups, not from a reviewer of a well-respected site.

These are some of the reviews I'm referring to:
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5350
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5129
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=4428
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5327

On the other hand a lot of the reviews are great: well written, detailed enough, and they contain information about the DVDs audio, video and extras.

For example, these are some excellent reviews:
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5311
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5360
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5294
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5310
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5209

I guess this is a plea to DVDTalk to tighten up a bit on the quality of the DVD reviews. Please continue offering the top-quality reviews that make this site so great.

Thanks.

[edited to fix a link]

Last edited by llopis; 01-13-03 at 10:39 AM.
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Old 01-13-03, 01:03 PM
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Thanks for your feedback. It's very appreciated.

With almost 5K reviews, sometimes one will slip through that probably shouldn't. I'll follow up with the reviewers who posted the reviews you liked to (actually only 2 of the 4 are still writing for us, so that may help explain it).

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Old 01-16-03, 02:55 AM
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I'm one of the reviewers here and I think that it's great that Geoff gives us a venue for publishing our work. I think that all of the reviewers do a fantastic job. There are differences in style, no question, but that's what makes it cool: lots of diversity. I wouldn't mind working with an editor though. I know that I have grammatical and spelling errors slip through from time to time. Working with an editor would make my writing better and offer me a challenge, while improving the consistency and quality of writing on the site. The honor system is fantastic but it lends itself to lazy writing sometimes.

Just my two cents.
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Old 01-16-03, 09:02 AM
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I immediately thought of the Virgil Bliss review when I saw this thread.
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Old 01-16-03, 10:36 AM
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I agree that there has been some irregularity in the reviews. For me, the primary problems stem from poor writing.

As a full-time copy editor and an English graduate, I can spot poor writing from a mile away. For me, if I notice a poorly structured sentence or any grammatical issues, I'm immediately turned off and consider the review "not worthy." If it turns out a particular reviewer is consistently poor, I'll consider him/her "not trustworthy" and will discontinue reading those reviews.

There are a handful of options to remedy this, in my opinion:

One, I love the idea of an editor helping shape the reviews.

Two, and this may be off track according to some, but I'd rather see good, solid, well-thought-out reviews of fewer DVDs rather than see inconsistent writing for more DVDs. In other words, perhaps reducing the number of REVIEWS PER REVIEWER could solve this matter.

Three, a more stringent review format.

As a side note to the third one, I think there should be an area below/near the star grades that details the finer points of the DVD...is it anamorphic? digital sound? a list of features? This could be filled in by the reviewers. This serves two purposes: the reader gets a quick way to see what's on the disc, and two, the reviewer has a checklist of things to go over in the review.

So, maybe that was more like 4 cents, but hey, I try....

Oh, and as one final final note, I think Jason Bovberg was misrepresented in this thread through the link in the first post. I think he's one of the better (and most consistently good) reviewers, not only at dvdtalk, but on the web as a whole.
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Old 01-16-03, 11:01 AM
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Originally posted by bishop2knight
Three, a more stringent review format.
This is something I've been really interested in from day one (around 3 years ago), but unfortunately, with over 5,000 DVDs in the database, it's not feasible to rewrite and reformat that many reviews to accomodate a new format. I wanted to have a more stringent format when I took over writing the software, and even though there were a fraction of the reviews at the time (around 1,000), it's unfortunately just not realistic.

If it's any consolation, I was able to greatly improve upon things in that respect when I wrote the software for the video game review portion of the site, as that didn't require any backwards compatibility.

I don't think fewer reviews per reviewer is the answer, but coming up with a more standard structure for the reviews, even if the reviews currently in the database don't adhere to the new format, would be greatly preferred.

Also, reviewers really ought to give their reviews a once-over. I wrote 'preview your reviews' tools and have given reviewers the ability to edit their reviews once they've been posted, but these tools aren't widely used, at least by most of the reviewers from what I can tell.

I'd like to add a minimum length requirement for reviews as well, but I'm not sure what it should be. I personally try to avoid writing reviews less than 7K in length.
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Old 01-16-03, 11:38 AM
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Originally posted by ctyner
I'd like to add a minimum length requirement for reviews as well, but I'm not sure what it should be. I personally try to avoid writing reviews less than 7K in length.
Surely you mean 7000 characters, not words? I don't think a minimum word length is the answer, Adam. I think that would just encourage empty wordiness, which I think is already a problem. Some titles--say, the "LOTR" set--need a long, in-depth analysis, and some bland, featureless DVDs--like "Damaged Care" my title linked above--need a quick, though well-written treatment.

I do want to thank you for the system you've put together. I especially appreciate the ability to edit after posting. I can't tell you how many times I've taken advantage of that option. Sometimes I'll need to change something after fact-checking later, or sometimes I'll just find a bone-headed spelling error. Like Bishop, I'm an editor by trade, so I have an eye for proper grammar and good writing.

We have at least one or two reviewers who value quantity over quality, barreling through their reviews with nary a glance back at the quality of what they've contributed to the site, and I'm sure these are the reviewers who never use the edit function. As for me, I happen to value quality over quantity, both in what I write and in what I read. I always try to improve my writing and presentation. And I'm frequently re-reading my reviews to ensure that they're effective.
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Old 01-16-03, 12:14 PM
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Originally posted by Jason Bovberg
Surely you mean 7000 characters, not words?
Well, 7,168 characters I guess , but I was referring to the file size of the body of the review, not word count or anything. The majority of my reviews, unless they're particularly loaded special editions or something, seem to fall right around 7K. I guess that's just my comfortable length.

I agree that a minimum word length isn't the answer, but I think a reasonable minimum (I'm not suggesting using 7K, though) would discourage the excessively short reviews. I admittedly also hate having extensive dead white space beneath reviews.

I do want to thank you for the system you've put together. I especially appreciate the ability to edit after posting.
No problem! The biggest reason I volunteered to rewrite the software from the ground up was because I wanted to make sure the features I wanted were present. I almost always edit my reviews afterwards.

Just to be clear, though, I didn't have you or really anyone specifically in mind when I made the comment about the tools being widely used. I've noticed a number of instances where reviewers would forget to close an HTML tag, leaving most of a review italicized or in bold. Even worse are reviewers who use broken HTML tables. It's the sort of problem that's quickly noticed if the review is previewed.

I think that if reviewers would take a few minutes, preview their reviews, read through them before Geoff takes them out of the queue, and edit any errors they may find, probably a good 75% of the errors would be corrected.
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Old 01-16-03, 12:55 PM
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Slightly off-topic, but not really ...

Is there a way to indicate the reviewer in the upper panel that shows the "New Review" icon? Maybe in a very small font underneath it? Or reviewers could have a tag like their initials or something?

I assume that's probably not going to happen, but I wanted to ask just in case. Some reviewers write excellent reviews every time, and I'll read their review of DVDs I've never heard of or previously had no interest in, just in case. Other reviewers, however, are much less reliable and way too opinionated for my taste (I like a detached and relatively emotionless review - just my preference).

I could obviously check the review page periodically and see which new reviews are out by my favorite reviewers, but I'm too much of an impulse reader for that (and I expect much of the forum is that way). I see a cover scan that looks intriguing, so I click on it. With what seems to be a fairly rapid turnover in reviews, it would be great to have the reviewer's name printed as well to avoid clicking every single picture that comes through or frequently checking the review page.

IMO, often the author is just as important as the film when it comes to deciding which reviews are worth reading.

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Old 01-16-03, 01:02 PM
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Originally posted by ctyner
Also, reviewers really ought to give their reviews a once-over. I wrote 'preview your reviews' tools and have given reviewers the ability to edit their reviews once they've been posted, but these tools aren't widely used, at least by most of the reviewers from what I can tell.

I couldn't agree more. I go over my reviews two, three, four times and more before posting them. I also like to come back and re-check them once they've gone live to make sure that I haven't missed any errors. Recently I've been working with my own editor (not connected to DVD Talk in any way) in order to really polish my work before it gets published. The result is reviews that I can really feel proud of (particularly recent reviews including Metropolis, The Ring and my Best of 2002 column). My skills as a writer have gotten much better since soliciting the help of an editor.
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Old 01-16-03, 01:26 PM
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das: Great suggestion. I haven't done this for adult reviews or for the 'coming soon' titles yet, but move your mouse over the cover thumbnail under 'New Review' and look at the status bar of your web browser. It should list the name of the movie and the author of the review.

My only concern is that doing so greatly increases the size of the automatically generated Javascript file of recent reviews, which may cause a performance hit on the board. If things slow down, this feature may have to be removed...
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Old 01-16-03, 01:36 PM
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Thanks! That looks great - I didn't even think of that!

May I suggest something I assume would be less intensive and would require no javascript ... you could make it the ALT for the IMG tag or set it up as a mouseover tooltip of some kind. That way you could move the mouse over the image and have it popup the tooltip of the title and author. In fact, now that I think about it, having the DVD title is very helpful since it's not always obvious which DVD the cover represents.

<I>Edit: nevermind that ... I think I misread your post. After checking the source, I see how you're doing the Review rotation. Still making it an ALT should save a few bytes.</I>

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Last edited by das Monkey; 01-16-03 at 01:40 PM.
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Old 01-16-03, 01:44 PM
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If I could use PHP to display the reviews, then there wouldn't be a performance hit (well, not in the same way, at least). Right now, I have things configured so that when an administrator logs into the review software, the 50 most recent reviews are dumped into a Javascript file that's included whenever the forum is used. The Javascript code randomly selects one of those fifty reviews. I don't know of a way around using Javascript for this purpose now, and switching from the Javascript '***********' to an ALT tag won't save any space. However, adding the ALT tag once the review is selected doesn't have an appreciable effect on file size, so now I'm displaying things both ways.
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Old 01-16-03, 01:53 PM
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Ah, I understand what you're doing now. Why can't you use PHP to retrieve the data from the file?

Btw, that looks great with the tooltip popup. I like that a lot better than in the status bar. Talk about 5 Star service!

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Old 01-16-03, 01:57 PM
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Originally posted by das Monkey
Why can't you use PHP to retrieve the data from the file?
If I were able to use PHP, I'd hit the database directly and wouldn't fiddle with the file at all.

I dunno, Geoff told me why I'd have to use Javascript instead of PHP, but I don't remember what the reason was. I think it has to do with the specific way he's using headers and footers, or maybe it's because he wanted to avoid having to do an extra MySQL query with every page view. He might pop into this thread and be able to explain the situation.
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Old 01-16-03, 02:02 PM
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Adam.

I think there's a trick to pull php with javascript.

We do it in the Video Game Talk Forum area for top price search games:
<script language="javascript" src="http://www.dvdtalk.com/pg/games.php?max=7"></script>
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Old 01-16-03, 02:03 PM
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Absolutely no offense to you dudes, but I think we might be veering away from the intent of this thread...
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Old 01-16-03, 06:19 PM
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Perhaps an Admin could be persuaded to Split off the off topic posts....?

I also wonder if it wouldn't make sense for Geoff to create a Reviewer forum, accessible and viewable only by DVDTalk Reviewers...might make discussions of this sort a little easier as well as give you a place to peer review your work before having it posted.
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Old 01-16-03, 07:11 PM
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Ctyner, count me as another reviewer who really appreciates the preview/editing tools. I *always* preview my reviews, as well as revising and spell-checking them beforehand, and I often use the edit function as well for anything from a typo to a factual correction to a sentence that I belatedly realized wasn't clear enough.

Quantity isn't really the issue, I think. I'm fairly prolific now, but I'd say that my average quality has gone *up* since I started about a year and a half ago, as I've gotten more practiced. And nobody but nobody writes more reviews than Beierle (!!), but I have never seen a review from him that wasn't substantial. It's an question of the ability to write medium-length film essays, basically. I think the main issue is getting good *writers* onto the site, and emphasizing sticking to the standards that Geoff *has* set - in the form of model "good reviews" that he's pointed out, and what he's said about expectations for the video/audio/extras section.

I like editing and I'm good at it (I'm not a professional editor, but I'm a schoolteacher with three English degrees, yikes); I'd be willing to take on the task of helping to edit the current reviews, or even editing the backlog of reviews to a common standard (of format and grammar)... if there were some sort of compensation like free DVDs...
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Old 01-17-03, 01:54 AM
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As much as I like the idea of working with a DVD Talk sponsored editor, I just don't see how practical it would be within the context of Geoff's site. We don't get paid for our reviews, especially when reviewing our own discs which is something I do from time to time, so I don't think it's reasonable to require the articles to be edited. I do think that there should be awareness on the part of the reviewers that a high quality of writing is expected of them if they want to continue publishing on the site. For the most part I think that this is the case. Having our work published here is a genuinely valuable privilege and it seems to me that the review staff is very aware of that fact.

Like Heather, I didn't start out as the best writer on the site, but over time I think my work has really improved. As I said above, I run everything through my own editor now (a close friend who edits for a living) and that really helps me. I think that an informal feedback area for the reviewers could be really valuable, but I shy away from making peer review mandatory before publication. It seems like that would just slow things down to a crawl. It can be hard enough to get reviews out before release date as it is.
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Old 01-20-03, 07:13 PM
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Eeeeekkk... Not trying to embarass anyone, but after having this thread going on over the past few days, you'd think that the writer would have realized that...

this is not a good recent review

The its/it's thing makes my hair stand on end, too...

One thing I do on a regular basis as a reviewer is to read everyone else's reviews to appreciate the (usually) very good writing - I like to see how other writers do things. It's reviews like this excellent one that the newer reviewers should be reading and trying to model their reviews on.
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Old 01-20-03, 10:41 PM
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Originally posted by ordway
Eeeeekkk... Not trying to embarass anyone, but after having this thread going on over the past few days, you'd think that the writer would have realized that...

this is not a good recent review

The its/it's thing makes my hair stand on end, too...

Ouch! Reading that made my brain hurt. Sentences disconnected, grammatical errors, lack of substance. What made sense was what the reviewer merely copied from the back of the Amaray.

To the reviewer: it is extras not extra's

Delete!

Last edited by diacritic; 01-20-03 at 10:46 PM.
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Old 01-21-03, 09:41 AM
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I also say bravo to the preview/editing tools Adam. When I was a reviewer I found that I used this feature a lot. Most of it was for HTML tagging errors, but sometimes I also caught some mistakes in my writing here and there.

It was very difficult to edit a review with all the HTML tags in there and I always found it helpful to be able to preview and read the review before Geoff took it out of the queue. If I had left them without previewing them there would have been a good deal of HTML errors in my reviews (i.e. all underlined, bolded, etc.).

I don't envy Geoff's position in trying to fill reviewer spots. It is difficult to find good writers, especially when trying to review a lot of titles (including little known ones). DVDTalk is a lot different from the other DVD websites out there in that DVDTalk reviews basically EVERYTHING and the rest review only the major releases it seems. It is also not the easiest thing to go through all the extras, comment on audio/visual, etc. when you have a full-time job. The balancing act can be pretty tough. I still haven't figured out exactly what Aaron does, but I would guess he works somewhat close to the industry. It was the stress that made me leave as a reviewer...I enjoyed my time though.

Last edited by AgtFox; 01-21-03 at 09:44 AM.
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