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Just tell me what to buy

Community message board steers shoppers. But can the general public be trusted?

Recommendr, a new social shopping site, mimics the Q&A feel of a company community message board.

You throw a question up on the site and hope that someone more knowledgeable than you--or someone who has already been through the experience and done the research--has a shortcut or answer to your latest consumer dilemma.

Users can ask or answer a question on any topic concerning a consumer purchase. Recommended items range from household cleaners to watches and include links to where you can buy a product. Users' rating are based on points. They are given five points for every question they answer for someone and one point each for things like rating an answer, visiting the site, and recommending products.

In a busy world, that method of information collection makes sense and is highly useful. Why should you waste time wading through the vast Internet if someone with half a brain has already done the legwork?

Many times, friends and family ask me for shopping advice. They say, "I don't have time to wade through product reviews. You're the CNET reporter, you know the kind of person I am and what I'm going to use this for. Just tell me what to buy."

But there's the rub.

As any CNET journalist does, I have a wealth of experience, knowledge, and resources (and compatriots to consult) when it comes to consumer electronics, software, cars, and the like. In fact, our internal company message board is so popular and highly regarded that someone actually started a Facebook version for CNET alums who miss the community brain trust.

But with Recommendr there's no guarantee that the person advising you is really knowledgeable on the question he or she answers. It could also be abused as a tool for product placement. The system is being revised so that veteran users' ratings are weighted more than others and abusers are obscured, according to Recommendr CEO Eric Goh.

"For right now, we are manually policing the community," said Goh. Recommendr is also looking for experts to act as site advisers.

"The thing that helps is that you are not just voting, so when you look at Digg people are just voting stories up. What we have here are quality of answers. Consumers are pretty good at determining when answers are authentic or a sales pitch," said Goh.