What Needs Improving On The Consumerist?

What would you like to see us add to The Consumerist in 2007? It’s year-end-review time so we’re gathering together a big wishlist of services, fixes and whatzits we would like to see implemented. Plus, there’s a site redesign around the corner…

Integrated post/comment RSS feeds? Comment system that doesn’t make you refresh to see your comment? Dedicated investigative reporter staff position?

Let us know how you feel in the comments, provided that they’re working, or at tips@consumerist.com. We’ll kick it upstairs and see what we can do!

— BEN POPKEN

UPDATE: Comments about editorial content and direction can go in this new post, “Editorial Content And Direction, What Needs Improving?

Comments

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  1. LTS! says:

    Well, it’s been said before… there needs to be a more solid focus on the consumerist aspect of things and not so many useless posts. The quantity requirements made of you guys perhaps factors into this and it’s sad. I’d rather see you spend your time looking into an issue than simply move on to complain about some dumbass who thinks his package should be delivered in a blizzard. If that means an investigative reporter.. then so be it.

    Second, the one thing that does NOT need improving is the pictures that are placed along with the posts. Those are always perfect (this particular post included).

    Finally, resolution posts would be good. I realize that may be difficult but in many cases there is a post and some flaming and then nothing. It would be nice to see what ultimately happens in more situations.

    Tell the bosses less quantity more quality. Usually it’s a lot better that way. Oh and no more of the Royal “We” crap. It’s fine if it’s representing “The Consumerist” but if one person thinks something then say *I*. Royalty in the US stopped when we threw their damn tea into the harbor :)

  2. Vinny says:

    1. Open up trackbacks or technorati links to posts.

    2. Fix the comments disappearing bug (they bug out right after you type ‘em sometimes)

    Number 3 is my big one…

    How about a “user commentary essay.” You could make it a weekly feature. Here’s the catch, though. You have a “pitch” thread every week. In the pitch thread, people pitch their idea to Ben and Meghann (or the readers if you guys wanna go that route). Then, the person whose pitch gets the most interest gets to write one essay-length post for The Consumerist. I think it would open the site up to new perspectives without the burden of bringing others on staff and you’d be able to filter out weak ideas before they made it in.

  3. Vinny says:

    Oh, and I second LTS on the Royal “We.”

  4. Mike_ says:

    Add a Wiki to organize tips and tricks from posts and comments into a definitive one-stop resource.

    Fix the bugs.

    Keep the pluralis majestatis. I like it.

    More follow-ups and resolution posts.

  5. Sudonum says:

    Yeah, I’d agree with resolution posts. I’m dying to know if MS_Smarty_Pants ever got her rebate!

  6. misterelectric says:

    More Wal-Mart T-shirt posts.

    Sorry! Just kidding!

  7. Jesse in Japan says:

    I don’t need to see an update every time airlines raise their fares. Especially when it’s a ten or twenty dollar increase.

    Also, the whole cancel your cell phone coverage plan-because of rate increases thing is all well and good, but couldn’t we have that as a once-weekly omnibus post?

    The how-to posts are nice, but they vary greatly in terms of quality and usefullness. In any case, I think you should have a directory on the sidebar that links to them, because I can never find previous posts when I need them.

  8. adamondi says:

    My biggest thing is the site redesign. I have never been a big fan of the black background and pink foreground thing. Plus, it makes it REALLY hard to surreptitiously read the site at work when the site has so much contrast to its color scheme.

    Other than that, it would be interesting to have some theme weeks. You know, still post user tips and interesting stories, but also have several posts a week dealing with a specific theme. Perhaps take one item from the Consumerist Kit and go in-depth on how that particular website or tool works and what nifty tricks can be used with it. Kind of like Lifehacker, but for consumer things. Call them Consumerhacker posts or something.

  9. ACurmudgeon says:

    I understand where LTS stands with the posts, but I have to disagree. If you guys want to post something, go ahead. I can look at the title and the summary and decide if I want to look at the story or not. Truly some of the funniest and best posts come from these “useless” posts. It helps to break up the drudgery of the reality that corporations and people regularly screw thier customers.

    I second the “commentary essay” idea of Vinnie’s.

    Oh, and how about a spellcheker for comments.

    Perhaps a way to leave feedback on a commenter, something subtle that gets to the Con-Eds to help recognize problem commenters faster.

    Oh, and a weekly audio podcast where Ben and Meghann can have a dialog about some of the top stories and what they think about them.

  10. acambras says:

    I like adamondi’s idea.

    Early next year I want to assess my whole phone/internet/cable/cell situation. Based on my usage patterns, do I want to ditch my landline? If so, how will that affect my DSL (which I’m not even sure is the speed I’m paying for)? Do I want to ditch DSL and go with cable internet? Or do I even want cable anymore? Maybe I want a dish instead? But will the dish company charge me more for not having the damn landline?

    Obviously, I have lots of research to do. I would love to be able to count on Consumerist and all the consumeristas out there as good sources of information — save myself as much time, aggravation, and money as possible.

    Sometimes I think life was easier when all I had to worry about were Ma Bell, a dial-up connection, and a set of rabbit ears.

  11. Chris H says:

    Consumerist needs to be more sophisticated. Who wants to read about the guy who got the wrong order at McDonalds? There are serious consumer issues out there–payday lending/predatory lending, false advertising, how the law prevents American consumers from enjoying certain products (because of copyright zealots), business lobbying against consumer protections, and the shaping of consumer attitudes by marketing and PR firms. You could have a weekly column focusing on the jackals at Edelman and other PR shops. One great blog to emulate is Public Citizen’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog. http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/

  12. major disaster says:

    One thing that really bugs me is that posts often are not updated and/or corrected when errors or clarifications are pointed out in the comments. This seems to happen quite frequently on Consumerist. I read a number of the other Gawker sites, and their editors are good about posting corrections, so I know it’s not a hard thing to do.

    No one expects you guys to be perfect (particularly if the errors originate in some other source that you’re just citing to), but I would guess that most people who read this site don’t read the comments, so it’s important not to leave false or misleading information in the original posts.

  13. He says:

    Use tinymce or the fckeditor to keep people from posting html with unclosed tags in the comments. And if images get lost on a slow connection or some other hiccup, you get black text on a black background.

    Oh, and the images are friggin huge. How about a tiny image on the front page and the big one on the back when it’s something not relevant (like the half naked women in Meghann’s photo stock)? Your front page is like 25 screens long constantly.

  14. acambras says:

    I love the Consumerist. The posts, plus their associated comments, are generally informative, entertaining, or (hopefully) both.

    I agree with the quality vs. quantity comments above. I love you guys, but some of the posts are a little “fluffy.”

    I’d like to see some way to organize the posts into categories: airlines, telecom, exposes (e.g. flogs), ID theft and protection, banking, etc. A way for people to browse posts either in chronological order or by category.

    As entertaining as the horror stories (and the ensuing comments) are, some of them are so specific as not to be of general use to the rest of us. I would definitely like to see more how-tos — I liked the idea of organizing them in the margins. I’ve used a lot of the how-tos from Consumerist and it would be nice to have them handy for reference (or to point friends in the right direction).

    By the way, I personally have no problems with “the royal we” or all the kitty photos of late.

  15. lpranal says:

    Chris, I think there is definitely a space for that kind of subject matter, but I would sincerely hope that Consumerist doesn’t lose sight of the “little guy”. No, I don’t mean that ordering a number 2 at mcdonalds with no cheese and getting cheeseburgers warrants a blog post or any attention for that matter, I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that they would actually post something like that. I think this blog sits in a very interesting place right now- people whose complaints would otherwise get swept under the rug by the giant corporations you’re decrying are suddenly in the spotlight.

    To be sure, I think the consumerist is a balancing act between protecting our rights as consumers, and being the boy who cried wolf, so to speak, and undermining the importance of exposing the dark, seedy underside of the consumer realm.

    My idea for improvement: I don’t care about special features or articles, those are all nice, just continue to be the sober and (nearly) objective voice of consumer advocacy and i’ll be happy!

  16. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I agree on the site design / appearance. I’m not saying that the Consumerist should go for the “Web 2.0″ look, but the black background and the ominous logo makes this site look like a website for some satanic cult.

    No more Wal-Mart Nazi t-shirts stories please.

    I agree on the sophistication also. The McDonalds drive-through story was fun to talk about, but it was really about some guy whining about pickles and cheese and mayo.

  17. Kornkob says:

    I second the ‘tight focus on consumer items’ sentiment in the first post. While sometimes the ‘filler’ is humorous I often find it frustrating to come here to find that a third of the posts are either ‘send us stories’ spam or off topic (or barely related items with little ‘meat’). Leave the Gawking to Gawker.

    A dedicated investigative team sounds interesting. Be nice to see Consumerist do some in depth stuff, instead of the same ‘post a link and make some pithy commentary’ blogosphere stuff.

    Be nice if you guys could rope in some folks from other regions to rope in some other perspectives.

    Forums? Some persistence in the form of a forum would be nice. Sometimes the comments range off topic but often those off topic items are interesting but never really resolved. Be nice to have a place to talk about stuff that isn’t directly related to a particular post.

    Also be nice of the comments had a GUI for formatting text for those who don’t know the tagging format this system uses. For instance, being able to easily quote someone (and make it clear that we’re quoting them) would be nice.

    How about a links section? Finding the good information that this site has generated over time can be difficult. Be nice if there was someplace I could go to find some of the places you’ve reccomended or the tools you’ve referred us to.

    And how about a mission statement/customer commitment? What can your consumers expect from this site? What is it the Consumerist promistes to do for its customers? You’ve already got ‘Terms of Use’ that tell us what we can’t do and how to do what we are allowed to do– so why not tell us what your end is?

    Incidentally, your About section is all jacked up with outdated information and features.

  18. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I would like to be able to edit comments after posting. While Firefox has a built-in on-the-fly spell checker, it can’t catch homophones, missing plurals, or wrong words.

    I’ve also had issues with posting duplicate entries; granted I’ve learned to wait several minutes to make sure the server has emptied the reply queue and that seems to have pretty much solved that issue.

    I’ve seen some blogs that will indicate (in text, below the post) that a reply was edited and for what reason, which prevents people from completely changing their position on something, but allows corrections for typos and omissions.

    I don’t mind the black background, but it takes awhile to load and I can’t read anything until it does. It’s only a few seconds, but in internet time, that can be months (or years, if you’re on dialup).

  19. Sudonum says:

    While the McDonalds regifted burger story was hardly news worthy, it was interesting for me to learn how other people would have handled the situation. Nothing like that has ever happened to me (thankfully), but at least now I know how to best handle the situation if it ever does. I don’t know if there are other sites out there where a story like that would be more pertinent. But to me that is also something that a consumer blog does; tell consumers how to best complain to resolve a situation to the mutual satisfaction of, hopefully, both the vendor and the customer

  20. Magister says:

    Agree on dumping the Wal-Mart T-Shirts updates. Just because Wal-Mart is evil doesn’t mean we need to hear about every percieved slight.

    Unless you just aren’t getting enough user submitted content, I think we should see less of the ‘just bitch’n stuff. Blizzards will delay mail. Deal with it. Fast Food workers will just hand you cheeze in a box if you paid less than 10 bucks to feed a family.

    Help people find better flights. As state previously, we don’t need to know about every single rate hike. Unless, like stated previously, you have grand omnibus posts on the latest in teh Airlines Industry. That could be cool.

    Exploding batteries, AOL CSR’s and sleeping Cable techs are the bread and butter of this site. Keep it up.

  21. Ben Popken says:

    Thanks for all the comments! Just a small point, we’re looking for feedback about technical issues. Perhaps we can open up another post thread about editorial, or you can send in editorial suggestions to tips@consumerisit.com.

  22. More pictures of Meghann!

    Seriously though, I liked the “worst companies” polls. Maybe have a “Hall of Shame” or something like that for all those repeat offenders…I’m looking at you Concast and AOL.

    I also, think the black/pink scheme needs updating…black backgrounds are so 1990 early internet…

  23. Papa K says:

    “Techinical” issues? I agree with the CSS/coloring of the site. I say it’s time for a redesign! Break out the crayons!

  24. homerjay says:

    Damn you, Crayon! I was just coming in here to say that!

    Also, adding in a feature where it tells you when and how many comments have been posted since yours. ask.mefi does something similar to this and its very convenient.

    Also, how about a forum? It would make it a lot easier for some of us who have issues that are less important to the ‘daily 18′ but still important to us.

  25. criticman says:

    A lot of the same as above.

    1 – Site redesign, to help my eyes and to make it less obvious when I take a short, well deserved break from work to read the blog.
    2 – Fix the commenting system.
    3 – Some minor interaction tools that most blogs are going with these days, such as Digg This, bookmarking, etc…oh wait, there IS a Digg icon, but it is so tiny.
    4 – Better content organization. Not sure how, but several people have offered ideas in comments above mine.

  26. I like the random, some times semi-off-topic posts. [Like the Oozinator, and Ben's ice cracking device].

    They’re far more interesting to read than a bloated post on getting out of a Verizon contract.

  27. The Reviewer says:

    I would like my username to work. I updated it, but it still shows my old one.

    For some reason your bg image loads really slowly. Slowest of the gawker blogs.

  28. Ben Popken says:

    Site redesign is around the corner… I’ve seen mockups and new logo and all sorts of fancy readability. Stoked!

  29. acambras says:

    Can you make one that looks like a spreadsheet so our co-workers don’t know what slackers we are?

    Seriously, multiple view options (text only, arrange chronologically, arrange by topic, etc.) would be very cool.

  30. MattyMatt says:

    Yes, please do open up another post thread about editorial.

  31. The_Truth says:

    Technical issues:

    Fix the comments, please!

    Also it has a habit of forgeting my user name and password, which is a pain in the ass. Maybe if as the username you could have your email as an option rather than trying to remember what my damn user name is that would be cool.

    Ive noticed also via firefox, that the RSS feed seems to lag a touch behind the number of actual posts.

    Otherwise its all good.

  32. Kornkob says:

    If you ask how to improve things and people start talking about items you consider ‘editorial’ just as much as ‘technical’ issues then perhaps you need to let them be aired— or at least start a post on the editorial content. After all, it is your customer talking.

  33. Dustbunny says:

    I agree that the black background’s gotta go. Otherwise, no complaints. I kinda like the fluffy and/or off-topic stuff. If you don’t want to read it, just scroll on by!

  34. Chongo says:

    I would love to see some forums so that I can chat more with you people. The conversations here are probably the best I’ve seen. For one they are much more mature then the typical DIGG threads.

    Speaking of which… what about threaded replies?

  35. adamondi says:

    I think that there should definitely be more pictures of kitties. My wife and I have really gotten a kick out of them. Now, all we have to say is “crackerzzzzzz” and we crack up again. Good times.

  36. acambras says:

    Just one thing — PLEASE keep the comments in one readable section, vs. having a page of links where to see each individual comment you have to click on a separate link and go to a separate screen. That would kill me — WAY too timeconsuming.

  37. Ben Popken says:

    Hey, swing your comments about editorial content and direction into this post, “Editorial Content And Direction, What Needs Improving?

  38. Michael says:

    I’d like a more fluid design which takes advantage of extra screen width. At 1600×1200, Consumerist’s content is just a splash in the middle of a vast black lake. When a hot topic pops up, one ends up scrolling through page after page to read the commentary, but if the main area would adjust itself to a percentage of the screen width rather than a fixed number of pixels, the amount of scrolling could be reduced. I finally ended up having Opera use a custom CSS file so that I could address those issues for myself, but I’m sure there’s at least a few other people out there who would also like to have their screen real estate used more effectively.

  39. infinitysnake says:

    Um, maybe fix the broken comment system that just evaporated everything I wrote?

  40. infinitysnake says:

    That said- smaller pictures, please. And fewer silly posts- nobody cares, really, that a fast food place *&^’d an order, the surprise would be if they got it right. Way too many paragraphs wasted on this one, and you missed the one consumer-relevant point in that one, too. (That food safety rules prohibit returning food from the customer to the kitchen.)

    The daily phone carrier posts put me to sleep, too- any way those can be minimized? (I mean, seriously, do we need a daily, full length post for every rate change? that seems better suited to an email alert or something.)

    I’d like to see more reporting, more practical information, less sniping at small businesses I’ll never visit or freak incidents that are unlikely to be repeated. (ie, the manager calling a customer a name- it’s interesting, but hearing about it doesn’t help me as a consumer or highlight any failing in coporate policy.)

    And, am I the only one who has no use for “morning deals” and the like? They seem misplaced here.

  41. Bobg says:

    After 40 years in construction management I am appalled at what the home builders are putting up these days. these shoddily built homes are going to be maintenance headaches in a few years. This is the biggest purchase most of us will ever make and many people are going to be put in financial hell simply because they bought a home. I have seen 3/8″ waferboard on the roof, voids in the insulation that will cause condensation in the walls, cracked foundations, homes built on 50 year flood plains, improperly installed vapor barriers and I could go on and on. These shoddy builders have to be brought to the attention of the people who view this website. This is a major problem that will cause more harm to the people than a IPod that doesn’t work or some other trivial problem.

  42. feralparakeet says:

    I’m going to second the notion of some forums. I’d love to be able to get some advice or feedback from other consumerist readers without having to send in an email and hope that Ben and/or Meghann decide that my issue is more interesting than the number of days it takes Wal-Mart to get rid of all the nazi t-shirt.

  43. feralparakeet says:

    More posts per page and better search capability would be nice, too, now that I think about it. I guess that’s all.