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Sortable: Product selection for spec-heads

If you shop by product specs, this new service is the tool for you. It enables you to filter and sort a list of products based on criteria it extracts from published data.

Sortable helps you sort through the morass of confusing product specs. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Can't decide which TV, camera, or car to buy? Advice from friends too unreliable? Advice from expert reviewers (hello!) too soft? If you're the kind of person who likes to make purchase decisions based only on rigorous research, you might love Sortable.

Sortable is a product selection service that enables you to filter and sort a list of products based on criteria it extracts from published data. If you're looking for a camera, you can specify your price range, and then drill in by camera type, by brand, by video capability, and so on, down to some rather geeky (for most people) specs: viewfinder type, image stabilizer technology, and so forth.

The service also includes some judgment selectors. It lets you select "fast startup time" as a criterion; the service puts cameras in this group automatically, by comparing each camera to its competitors.

Sortable is cool and useful, and it's kind of magic how it is able to extract structured data from the sea of Web content. However, the criteria selectors themselves could be better selected. For example: In cameras, you can select by focus system (phase detection, cross-type points, continuous), which probably is meaningless to most people. But there's no selection for zoom range, which more people are likely to select products on.

The service is still new though, and I'll give the team time to tweak their algorithms and criteria before I come down on the product, since what they're doing is difficult and potentially very useful.

A co-founder of the Waterloo, Ontario, company, Chris Reid, says, "Nobody's really cracked the nut on decision engines." He recognizes the utility of CNET, as well as Retrevo, Decide, and other product reviews services, but he thinks that his company's technology could eventually apply to almost anything, from cars to politicians. It could be more useful than expert reviews, he believes. "Everything should be sortable," he says.

Mobile apps are forthcoming.

I really do like Sortable, and I am eager to see if the technology can be tweaked to make it consistently useful when making buying decisions.

Obviously the company could grow into an acquisition candidate for a search engine company, a product reviews heavyweight, or an online retailer. In the meantime, if you're looking for a product in one of its covered categories, Sortable could be a very useful additional tool for your research.