Black Friday: Why Reddit is such a trusted product review site

The hive mind of the internet is good, for once.

A web browser shows the home page of Reddit.
Reddit is good for more than just memeing.
Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images

Adam Clark Estes is the technology editor of Vox. Prior to joining Vox, Estes covered the intersection of technology and politics at Gizmodo, Vice, and the Atlantic.

Do you know how many different high-quality yet affordable 4K TVs there are out there? Do you know, based on thousands of reviews across dozens of websites, how unnervingly difficult it is to tell them apart and pick the right one to serve as the centerpiece of your shoebox-size New York City apartment?

I do. With Black Friday approaching, it’s finally time to upgrade my home entertainment situation, and although I was once a professional TV reviewer, I’m not up to date on the latest models and features. Unfortunately, the internet is mostly full of terrible advice.

Many of the reviews on shopping sites these days can be both convincing and, thanks to advances in AI composition, actually written by bots. Others seem too glowing to be real. Even professional review sites, like Consumer Reports or Wirecutter, don’t feel particularly authoritative anymore.

And these problems affect more than just TV shoppers.

Whether you’re looking for a new TV or the best bagel in Brooklyn, you’re bound to come across online reviews, and it’s hard to find something that feels trustworthy. There are a lot of reasons why this is true, and it doesn’t look like the situation will get any better soon. Despite regulators and tech platforms’ best efforts, the billion-dollar fake reviews industry is too big and complex to stop, as the New York Times reported this week.

Meanwhile, professional review sites aren’t as useful as they used to be. More and more of them seem like they’re chasing search words and affiliate marketing revenue rather than serving the readers’ best interests. (Affiliate marketing represents the special links to buy a product in a review, which give the media company a commission when the reader clicks through and purchases that thing. Vox Media, which owns Vox, does this, as do many other media companies, including the New York Times.)

So in an absence of authenticity and authority, where does an industrious internet user turn? Reddit, of course.

Sometimes known by its old slogan “the front page of the internet,” Reddit is most valuable for the knowledge collected in its very specific, often obsessive communities called subreddits. This is where you’ll find lots of real people with helpful things to say about the stuff you’re thinking about buying or the bagels you’re considering eating. And it doesn’t take much to tap into the Reddit hivemind. Just try tacking “reddit” onto the end of a Google query (e.g., “best white noise machine reddit”). You’ll quickly find quite a few other internet users with the same question, dealing with the same set of frustrations over the lack of reliable information in the traditional product reviews ecosystem.

In case you have any doubts about how hard it is to find reliable reviews, try Googling “best 4K TV.” On the results page, you’ll likely find a list of lists, some of which come from big-box retailers like Best Buy and others from professional review sites, including editorial sites like Wirecutter. The reviews on most of them, one could argue, are effectively ads within ads, since the companies reviewing the products are also getting paid for recommending them, through affiliate links. (As someone who spent the better part of a decade reviewing gadgets online, I will admit that tech journalists often do their best to offer good recommendations, but the digital media business inevitably rewards the sites that win Google search results and convert clicks into purchases.)

Now, if you narrow down those results by searching “best 4K TV reddit,” you’ll find a long list of discussions about different TVs. You’ll also see that there’s a specific subreddit called r/4kTV, which is a treasure trove of knowledge based on real people’s experiences, including advice on what to buy and what to avoid. There are plenty of links to more information or worthwhile reviews.

It takes a bit more work to wade through all of the Reddit threads, but you can also feel confident that the person giving you the advice doesn’t have a financial incentive to point you one way or the other. They just really, really, really care about 4K TVs.

For my time and attention, Reddit is the best place to get help when I’m trying to buy stuff, especially if it’s something I don’t know a lot about. If I’m looking for a new kitchen knife, I can dive into r/chefknives. When I debated the merits of the latest Dyson model, the kind folks in r/vacuumcleaners told me everything I needed to know. I actually spent hours on r/goodyearwelt figuring out which leather boots I could polish and resole again and again.

Subreddits like these are very specific, which is the point. They’re run by enthusiasts with deep knowledge of footwear or home appliances or whatever, and they’re willing to share that information for free. If you can’t find what you’re looking for by searching a subreddit, you can also just ask in a post and wait for thoughtful answers to show up in the comments.

This seems like pretty rudimentary advice, and that’s the beauty of it. Today, Reddit still manages to function the way we’d hoped the social web would when it was born nearly 20 years ago. It’s a dynamic online gathering place, one that’s not so obviously consumed by maximizing profits as, say, Instagram is these days. Real people are sharing information without thinking of ads or affiliate links, while other real people are moderating the discussion and promoting the most useful tips to the top.

Of course, Reddit is not the only place online where you’ll find websites full of people sharing tips. You can find countless forums where communities nerd out about things they’re interested in. If you’re a bike person, you’ll find some interesting stuff on r/bikes, for example, but you could get lost for days in the minutiae of Bike Forums. The big difference between specialist forums like that and Reddit is a mix of size — Reddit is one of the most visited sites online — and SEO. Because Reddit is so big and its archives go back so far, you can easily Google just about any question plus “reddit” on the end and find a decent result, in a way that is more difficult in other forums.

Give it a shot. Don’t be surprised if you get sucked in and end up joining a community for frugal audiophiles or one for antique coin enthusiasts — or both. I did.

A version of this story was also published in the Vox Technology newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss the next one!


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