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Badges of Contention: Wine Reviews, Twitter-Style

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For the record, I think a badge system for wine reviews are a good thing, especially when the badges supplement and "round out" a tasting note.

Badge systems are gaining traction these days in some circles as a grading system for wines that is an alternative to numerical ratings such as those patented by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator. (See, for example, Steve Paulo's badge paradigm on Notes from the Cellar.) I understand the appeal of numerical wine ratings and I certainly respect their power.

But I think there's a better way. And it has to do with context.

I like badges for reasons that have quite a lot to do with the personality of Red White Boston and our approach to tasting wine. Every wine recommended by a partner store comes with commentary, that is, a brief discussion of why that particular store is featuring that particular wine. When a partner store enters a wine into the RWB system, they'll find a field to enter commentary about the wine but never one to enter a numerical rating.

There are reasons for this:

  • Since I began writing about wine in Boston four years ago on, the entries have been about wine in context -- at this restaurant, at that retailer, with this group of friends, with that meal -- because that is the way that I understand wine.
  • When we spun off Red White Boston, I led focus groups and conducted surveys that simply and directly asked our readers what kinds of information they wanted to get about the wines we'd be featuring. The results? Information that was relevant to them personally, like where exactly in Boston they can find the wine, how much it costs, and the stories behind the wines that give them some point of reference so that the wine isn't lost in a sea of labels and brands.

Red White Boston did not have a badge system before our partners at VinTank suggested we develop one and use it to participate in their Tasting Panel. But I was glad to agree to it, because I see it as an extension of what we've already been doing.

So that's what we did, and I'm looking forward to testing out the badges with the Red White Tasting Crew at our event tonight at Whole Foods in Cambridge.

In the meantime I again asked our readers, and this time our followers on Twitter as well, what they thought of the badges. I take feedback and focus groups quite seriously, and I use surveys with the intention of making our product good for the users.

Which is why I'd like to share with you the main points of the feedback and Twitter discussion that has evolved. Some of the feedback is positive, some of it is negative, some is encouraging, some is quite the opposite.

But I am very glad for it all, because it's taught me about the impression of the badge system, its merits and faults, and especially how we can best adapt it to the Red White Boston community and, eventually, beyond Boston to other markets and cities.

Main Points of Discussion:

  • Plan for topical variety such as grapes, price ranges, geographies, and assessments.
  • Badges require everyone to use a similar or same context, otherwise they are not useful.
  • Badges add a little context just by the nature of their design: visual + words not numbers.
  • What I am conflicted over is the benefit to boiling down the task of a wine review. Loses usefulness. 
  • [I use badges to supplement reviews] along with a letter grade. I don't think anyone is confused.
  • "Red White Boston Recommended" with tasting note to explain why.
  • Please don't use badges. They are useless. < concur
  • Badges only fit for some ppl and my opinion is that they are casual drinkers vs tasters 
  • I'm not convinced that 'causal drinkers' are engaged enough to sort thru badges
  • Don't think most bloggers know id of their readers
  • Badges are not necessarily designed for simplification, just recommendation & exploration
  • With lack of clarity they ask the consumer 2 explore the writer's style & determine if they match a tribe
  • I don't understand some of the badges at first glance. Too vague. They should be easy to understand, even if the user doesn't know Red White Boston.

What is your opinion? Please leave a comment below or send an email. We're listening.


Where is the list of badges you will use?
Posted @ Wednesday, March 02, 2011 4:07 PM by RichardA
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