For many long months, CNET's engineers, editors, and designers have been hard at work rebuilding CNET from the ground up. This week, those changes are being unveiled for all our users. Behind the scenes, our publishing infrastructure has been overhauled to provide many benefits, two of which will be most obvious: our page-load times are dramatically improved and our publishing tools have been streamlined to permit faster roll-out of content and new features (more on those below).
The most visible change is to our look and feel. Everything from our logo to our color scheme to site navigation was reviewed, tested, and reworked. The result is a site that many users who were able to view the pages in a beta stage described as "sleek" and "professional." There is one aspect to the changes, however, that has proved to be a bit more controversial: the shift to stars to represent editorial ratings.
Product ratings are the core of what CNET Reviews does, so any tinkering with a familiar and successful format is guaranteed to be viewed skeptically by some longtime users. To those users, rest assured that nothing has changed in terms of how we rate products, only in how we display the outcome.
Our knowledgeable and passionate editors are still performing the same rigorous tests that have helped millions of consumers since the mid-1990s. The subratings and the final score are calculated the same way, and even result in a decimal score (for example 6.2). What has changed is that those ratings are converted to a five-star rating (with halves). One reason for the new visual treatment is that five-star ratings match those at our sister site, CNET Downloads, and the ratings you supply in our user opinions. We anticipate the change to stars will encourage more users to rate products on CNET and will make it easier to compare user ratings to editor ratings.
The bottom line is that the only thing we've changed is the display of our editors' ratings. In fact, we've gone one step further to highlight the hard work that goes into a CNET review: we are now displaying on product pages the subratings and overall score in a mouseover that hovers over the star ratings. Previously, this information was almost impossible to locate because it resided on a page describing our rating process that only a handful of our users were able to find. (Eventually, we hope to allow users to sort for products based on these subratings. For example, adding a sort option that would display all cameras that received a subrating of 8 or above for image quality.)
As for the other improvements to the site, the infrastructure work will allow editors to update category home pages and various other pages much more rapidly, ensuring that users are always viewing up-to-date content. This back-end improvement also will allow us to rapidly build new features. Indeed, several are included with the "new" CNET:
Reviews from competing publications are now presented in the right-side column of our product pages. While we are confident that CNET provides expert reviews that can make or a break someone's decision to buy a product, we also know that some people want verification that there is agreement among reviews before pulling out their credit cards. No longer do those users have to scour the Web for these reviews, since we are now showing excerpts alongside our own reviews. See an example here (but note we are working on improvements to the presentation.)
We now provide in-line buying advice on our product filter lists (view an example). This information comes directly from our editors' buying guides, so you know you can trust it. This information is also being served on pages for products that we have not reviewed.
CNET is making its archive of reviews available to the public. Previously, we've hidden reviews after a product was discontinued to avoid any confusion with currently available items. But we recognize that these old reviews could be useful to users interested in buying or selling old devices, so they're back online and clearly identified as being discontinued. View an example.
There are numerous other improvements to the site (such as the treatment of photos on product review pages). Please spend some time clicking around and send me e-mail me your feedback. We are not finished improving the site and your opinions are an important part of the process. For example, maybe you'd like to choose between the old ratings and the stars, or see both, or ...
Editor in Chief, CNET Reviews