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Tibesti launches reviews site with questionable reviews

New expert and consumer reviews site splits sales commissions with users. But the content needs to drive this site, not the revenues.

Tibesti on Wednesday launched the beta of its "social shopping destination," a site filled with consumer product reviews. There are, of course, a lot of consumer reviews sites, and there have been since the Web started. What sets Tibesti apart, slightly, is the way it pays users back for creating reviews.

If you review a product on Tibesti that hasn't been covered before, and someone then buys it by following a link on the site, you get half the commission that Tibisti earns. For this, Tibesti is channeling data from affiliate aggregators Commission Junction and Linkshare. These operations cover retailers like BestBuy and NewEgg, but not, unfortunately, Amazon (Amazon affiliate fees will be pooled and split, somehow, with contributors). Commissions on products range from 1 percent to 15 percent.

The bulk of reviews on the site, CEO Mike Hale told me, will be written by experts in their categories, who are paid by Tibesti. Hale said there are already about 5,000 reviews from about 120 writers.

Say what? Screenshot by Rafe Needleman / CNET Networks

A quick overview of the site's contents left me unimpressed. There were errors and serious omissions in the reviews of Nikon lenses, a category I know something about. In a roundup of "Best of the best" laptop bags, the expert included a $400 leather case with no padding. Really? In the kitchen tools category, where I'm less of an expert, the chef knife reviews sounded plausible, but I could only hope that they were more accurate than the lens and luggage reviews.

"We want the credibility of Consumer Reports," Hale told me. Which reviews site doesn't? But you have to earn that by having good reviews.

Buy this and I'll make a few pennies. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman / CNET Networks

I admit a strong bias here. I believe that specialized and community-focused sites have a better chance of earning the trust of readers. That's why I chose to work at technology reviews publishers, like CNET, for the bulk of my career. A site like focuses on technology. It's all we really know. Likewise, if I was looking for a good chew toy for my dog, I would trust the community on Dogster before this new site.

Tibesti is smart to build its business model on affiliate fees instead of advertising. Another shared-profits reviews site, Epinions, initially based its payouts to reviewers on ad revenues. Now would definitely not be the time to try that again. But I'm not sure it's time for a general-purpose reviews site based on transaction commissions, either. It's too broad, and too dependent on consumer spending. And we know which way that is going.