Mon, 16 Jun 2003

Getting an opinion online on just about anything

Vishnu K. Mahmud, Contributor, Jakarta,

The Matrix Reloaded is playing in theaters near you, but you've heard rumors it's not worth the price of the admission ticket. Or you want to buy the latest ecothriller but don't know if the book is good or not? Or perhaps you need to get a new laptop but are confused by the endless choice of computer brands that may or may not fit your particular needs?

Short of calling an "expert" within your circle of friends, finding opinions in the "old days" (like five years ago!) meant digging through newspaper movie reviews, book listings and magazine articles. Now, thanks to the World Wide Web, everybody with a unique perspective and an Internet connection can air their own outlook on practically anything.

Although the web allows people to post their own point of view and political stance as personal homepages, what you really need is a site that has a collection of reviews and opinions to help you research towards making that next big purchase. The 'Net is filled with such sites, but only a few really stick out.

For books, where else would you go but, the world's largest bookstore? Not only do they have a listing of products you may be looking for, but also reviews by internal staff and previous buyers that provides feedback for future potential shoppers to make up their mind.

Any user is allowed to post their own thoughts regarding their purchases. Simply enter the book name or author in the search box and see what other users have written about it. Or enter your own. Thus, people may be spared from buying a book that turns out to be (in their opinion) a totally boring and useless paperback.

Don't be surprised if Amazon recommends other titles as well. Armed with a gigantic database, the site also records similar purchases made by previous users, so those with similar tastes can find new and exciting items. Like Tom Clancy thrillers? Why not try Matthew Reilly books, such as Ice Station?

Considering the high number of turkeys being released by Hollywood these days, viewers are advised to do careful research by checking out movie reviews. The "mother of all" movie review sites is perhaps the irreverent Rotten Tomatoes. At, you can find written evaluations that either praise or pan a movie from professional movie critics, usually from U.S.-based publications, both traditional media (print) or online (web).

Amazon, in partnership with the Internet Movie Database,, also has a wealth of knowledge of film such as cast lists, production notes and movie reviews. You can even get a list of all the movies your favorite film star was in (did you know Sean Connery once played Robin Hood opposite Audrey Hepburn?). Even for new movies like The Matrix Reloaded you can find user submissions of what they thought about it in the theater section.

While Amazon also sells electronics and computers, you can get more professional reviews from the Asian division of CNet, In addition to information about the latest computer hardware and peripherals, you'll find a wealth of reviews for the newest cell phones, digital cameras and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) to enter the market.

Speaking of cell phones, you can also tap into the Indonesian cell phone user community at Reviews, tips, latest prices and complaints can be found at this site. You can even buy or sell phones here. As some Indonesians change their cell phones once every three months, keeping up to date with the latest telecommunications technology is very important for them.

There are also some specialty user review sites such as epinions,, or Pintunet, Both try to be a central website to accommodate user reviews from all aspects of life, from cars to banks, hotels to hospitals. Unfortunately, they are not as well-known in the Internet community as is Amazon; yet these sites have tremendous potential and have a lot to offer consumers.

Of course, one of the fastest ways to finding a review is by using search engines. Use google,, or Yahoo!, and enter the appropriate keywords such as "apple ibook 900 review". Keep an eye out for the results as some of the links may lead you to personal websites that provide deep analysis of their purchases.

It is extremely important to always research before making a purchase. Too many people easily fall victim to hype and marketing and finally purchase an item that they ultimately do not need or use effectively. Why buy a General Packet Radio System (GPRS) phone if you'll never use it? Knowledge is power.

And, for the record, The Matrix Reloaded failed to live up to the expectations produced by its propaganda. If you're looking for some serious martial arts action, find any Jackie Chan or Jet Li movie made in the past decade (those two don't use wires that much for their Kung Fu and are highly skilled). Sci-fi enthusiasts should perhaps read some William Gibson to see the "original" Matrix. But then again, that's just my point of view.