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In a sense I rather think of this review as the one that I wish I'd never had to write. I am not, in a fit of pique, sitting down writing this with steam percolating from my ears. Yes, I may be hammering my poor long suffering keyboard harder than ever over this one - but sheer damned frustration built up over the last year or so has brought me to the point where I find myself writing a review on the very site that has been my own literary "vehicle" during the last four years.
It is difficult to actually put a date on the climax of my frustrations here, I guess the constant "drip, drip, drip" has been building up since Christmas as the site once again seems to become progressively more dysfunctional.
It may well be the case that this review was finally triggered by the recent Ciao "meet" in Ipswich, the "meet" is not the subject of this review, but such social occasions have become a very enjoyable part Ciao for my wife and I.
As many members will be aware, I have put in a huge number of hours on Ciao over the years, not only writing reviews but also reading many thousands of others too. I have also taken a very active part in the social side of the site, through the Guest Books getting to know many other members surprisingly personally.
As it is not possible to format two columns i.e. "Plus" and "Minus" I am going to present this review in two sections - "love you, love you not".
CIAO I LOVE IT!
THE FIRST MEETING
I came to Ciao, as I suspect many do, a review site virgin, having not a clue what the site was all about, nor in truth probably being all that interested in finding out. I have always enjoyed writing and never actually, previously at least, dreamt that my writings would be read by a "public" audience.
To be honest I was surprised in many ways at what I found on the site. First and foremost the fact that there were not only reviews which were paid for, but also consumer surveys, which at the time I joined were surprisingly frequent and much more lucrative than now too. So, I guess you could say that it was a combination of vanity and easy money that got me hooked on Ciao.
Spending increasingly more time on the site - particularly reading others reviews, my priorities changed somewhat. The money side of it was much slower to accumulate than had been initially anticipated, but far more important was becoming the community side of the site.
NOW I'M BECOMING ADDICTED!
The biggest surprise of all to me was how quickly relationships formed and developed here, this is an aspect totally missing on Ciao's leading rival - Dooyoo. After publishing around half a dozen reviews on Ciao I had probably made as many new friends.
It strikes me now that this is an excellent way to actually meet like minded individuals, from all walks of life and every part of the globe. Yes I am sure that many here will forward Facebook, amongst others, as a more suitable way of doing this, but I am sure that here on Ciao, through my reviews, many have come to know me far better than they would in any other capacity.
POINTS MAKE PRIZES? REALLY? MAYBE NOT!
Adding to the community spirit, if that is not addictive enough on its own, Ciao have the coloured dot system. According to the site itself the Community Points - adding up to coloured dots - reflect the member activity on the site. Once again this is a feature unique to Ciao, Dooyoo simply reward you with cash or not - Ciao massages the vanity with points, which in many members mind are a powerful incentive to put as much time in on the site as they can.
However, colourful and incentivising as it is, the dot system is, in reality, worth nothing at all to members. It merely enables you to identify long standing and very active members, the colour of a member's dot however is an unreliable guide to the actual quality of their reviews.
There are members who "read only" - rarely if ever publishing reviews of their own. Conversely there are some who only publish, never reading others reviews - they tend
not to last on the site for long once it is discovered how little there is in it financially for them.
The points system tends to run out of puff once you get above 20,000 - it then takes so long to progress from one colour to the next that the incentive is largely lost.
Incidentally, like many other members I am just hanging on in here to see who is the first member to be awarded a black dot at a million points…..
……maybe a free trip to Blythe Pugh will be on offer…..sorry that'll be totally lost on the younger members here!
All in all though, whilst points do not actually make prizes, I like the dot system - especially when many reviews are not even paid for - at least you feel that you have had some recognition for publishing a review that you've slaved long and hard over.
DEVELOPING LITERARY GENIOUS
For me, one of the greatest pleasures on Ciao is in following the careers of promising new members. I am not quite sure why that this should apply to Ciao and not Dooyoo, but on Ciao good writers can develop into great ones. Indeed, I've even seen some quite mediocre initial efforts followed up by really good reviews, thanks to the members concerned reading around the site and taking on board the constructive criticisms (polite ones I hope!) from more experienced members.
The whole style and format of my writing has changed completely since starting to publish reviews on Ciao, as well as learning about consumer products, I have learned along the way what works and what doesn't in the way of review writing.
I love the publish photograph option on Ciao! Many review writers can write superb reviews without the need for supporting photographs. Unfortunately, wordy as they are, I never consider my reviews to be complete without the photographs to go with them.
In a sense I was a photographer before I was a writer. Digital photography now makes the whole subject so cheap and accessible that I use my photographs more often than not to actually write a review.
As well as enjoying being able to share my own photographs, I also like seeing other member's pictures. Even if the quality may be variable - there is nothing like seeing "proper" pictures of an attraction or product, rather than the cosmetically enhanced ones produced for publicity purposes.
THE GUEST BOOKS
This is one subject, in my experience at least, more debated amongst Ciao members than any other. Should they be scrapped? Made entirely "Private" - or just left as they are?
Being the bulwark of the "community" on Ciao I am all for leaving them alone - they work very well just as they are. If you do not like the attentions of the many guest book snoopers then you have the option of going private - otherwise publish and be damned!
One thing that would be a vast improvement however would be a 'delete all messages option'. Currently there are literally millions of messages clogging up the system - they are far too time consuming for members to delete one by one - I know, I tried it once - and gave up after deleting around three months worth of messages!
ON LINE FRIENDS - VIRTUAL REALITY MERGES INTO REAL LIFE
Thanks to a combination of review comments and the Guest Books, if you are a fully active member on Ciao you cannot help but to make friends along the way. Many of the friends that we, my wife and I, have made since joining Ciao have become friends off line as well as on Ciao. Given the opportunity we will meet as many as possible and have had nothing but positive experiences at the various Ciao Meets that we have attended…….anyone ever heard of a Dooyoo Meet?
Seriously though, whilst people are actually seldom as you would expect them to be, having met here, we have over the years met some wonderful people as a result of my Ciao membership.
CIAO I HATE YOU!
In truth, so bad has the overall performance of Ciao become technically, that the only thing now keeping me logging in, most days, is to keep in touch with my stalwart friends on the site.
What then are the factors that finally moved me to write this review?
The main thrust of this is coming from the review writer and readers point of view, although I feel that this review would not be complete without mention of the now shameful……
SURVEYS! SHOW US THE MONEY!
There was a time on Ciao when my earnings - yes, now we are talking hard cash - were split roughly 50 / 50 between review writing and filling in Ciao surveys. The surveys were infrequent, but when they did turn up - often several on the same day, were worth doing, usually offering between 75p and £4.50 for anything up to 30 minutes work.
What happened Ciao?
Now I get several surveys every day - offering me 10p for up to 40 minutes work, with the chance of winning £10,000 or £25,000. Have any of YOU won £10,000 on this site????
The result is that I, and all of the long standing members that I know, are simply not responding to surveys - they are the first thing that I delete from my in-box each day.
Now back to the reviewing side of things and it's……
……SLOW, SLOW, SLOW just how SLOW can we go?
LOGGING IN - TIMBER! Yes you can pop out and do a little pruning whilst the site builds up to speed!
Recently, seemingly since the launch of the video reviews, the whole site runs at the pace of a very constipated snail. Initially we thought this may have had something to do with our BT-Yahoo browser, that turned out not to be the case.
There are several different ways of accessing the site - usually either from typing www.ciao.co.uk into the browser, or more commonly using an email link. Either way the site takes an age to load up - that is before you actually get to the password request. If I am lucky I can type in my username and password and be live on site within 10 - 15 seconds. Normally though it takes anything up to a minute to just to log in.
Once you are in things only go from bad to worse. To progress from the Ciao home page to your Guest Book, via your own home page - or even a review can take whole minutes.
I have maybe as many as 300 members "on alert" - for those of you reading this review not familiar with the site, that is an email alert sent (daily in my case) when another member publishes a review. Until late last year I had absolutely no problem in reading all of the alerted reviews each evening - now, due to the extreme slowness of the site I am simply unable to get through them.
After struggling and struggling with this, I finally came to the conclusion that my favourite site - for that is what Ciao was - had simply become a frustrating waste of time…...
…..I have taken the time to sit down and write this review, many former and dormant Ciao members have simply given up and gone elsewhere……
……nine times out of ten "elsewhere" being Dooyoo, which, whilst undoubtedly an inferior site in many ways, is just so much slicker to use. For every Ciao review that I rate and comment on, in the same time I can read, rate and comment on at least three similar length Dooyoo reviews.
PRODUCT OF THE WEEK
OK, whilst I am in full moan mode, at the risk of upsetting many other members, I am going to voice a very personal "hate" here on Ciao - The POTW i.e. Product of the Week. I would cheerfully strangle whoever dreamed up this stupid idea!
I now check to find out what the POTW is and in fairness to all competitors avoid reading the category altogether.
Does anybody really want to read dozens of reviews on the same boring product? And, yes they always seem to be boring subjects!
I enjoy reading a well written review on any subject - I am not selective (usually) when it comes to the products that I read about. However, once you have read two or three reviews in an evening on the same strawberry yoghurt, do you really want to carry on for a whole week reading yet more of them?
More importantly, does an interested consumer really have the patience to read thirty or forty reviews (currently 35 published) on a Cheese spread - the current POTW?
Just how many opinions does one need to read on which to base a 99p purchasing decision?
Thus Ciao clutter up the site with dozens of unnecessary reviews, could this be partly why the site runs so slowly?
EXCEPTIONAL, VERY HELPFUL, HELPFUL, SOMEWHAT HELPFUL, NOT HELPFUL, OFF TOPIC…….YOU DECIDE!
Two years ago I would have rated Ciao as an EXCEPTIONAL site. Since then things have been downhill all the way - and at the time of writing, March 2008, sadly I find myself clicking the Somewhat Helpful button.
Non Ciao members will be bemused by that last paragraph, of that I have no doubt. In a nutshell, once you have read a review you have the option of rating it in one of the above six ways. Helpful and above earn positive points and a tiny financial reward - on paid reviews - Somewhat Helpful and below deducts points from the members total and earns not a penny.
By and large it is a good and self regulating system, although many on Ciao seem to fall foul from time to time to the revenge raters, or in my case the Alfista - but that is another moan for another time!
We members of Ciao have laughingly blamed the invisible gremlins for all sorts of technical failures on the site. These range from the extreme slowness to the constant requirement to re-log in when the site logs you out between rating and commenting on a review. On occasion you will read a review and then find it impossible even to rate that review - maddening, just maddening!
Gremlins attack everything from the uploading and publishing of photographs to the Guest Books.
THE RICHADA TIP
Never, but NEVER rely on Ciao alone to store your draft reviews. Far better to write them on Word first, then copy and paste onto Ciao. Indeed it is not unknown for whole completed reviews to go AWOL, it is always best to keep a back up file of reviews independant of the site.
THE SECOND RICHADA TIP
Take another piece of RICHADA advice - once you become friendly and REALLY trust another member, exchange email addresses. Never use even the Private Guest Book for conversations that you do not wish to be read elsewhere. There was a period on Ciao where the Guest Book messages - public and private - were being randomly distributed, it happened once; it is just as likely to happen again.
The above very neatly leads me on to my greatest concern of all regarding Ciao - that of Confidentiality of private member information.
Without, for obvious reasons, publishing all of the details here, I am going to recall an event that came closer than any other to having me sign out of Ciao for good.
In September 2007 I was awarded a diamond - an extra £10.00 for a rare book review - RICHADA doesn't usually "do" books!
Ciao sent me an email asking if I would be willing to take part in a one off interview about Christmas shopping - to be published in the November newsletter. At the top of this email were the email addresses of all the other ten diamond winners in September!
Yes, they had sent out a circular and neglected to delete the other email addresses.
Whilst some of the members were known to me, some were not - I had no business knowing their email addresses - neither they mine! One of the ones that I do know happens to be one of the youngest (female) members on the site too - wholly inappropriate that her email address should be circulated amongst other members in this way.
I replied to the email pointing out their error and, within hours, received a fulsome apology. The matter should have ended there - but did not!
In spite of the apology, a month later - when the person that they had lined up for the interview dropped out - they sent me another message requesting my "urgent participation before midday that day" - complete with - guess what - all of the other members email addresses still visible. To say that I was annoyed was an understatement!
I find it a truly ironic course of action, to write a review about the site that it is published on - especially when the overall tone is of such a negative nature.
Remembering what a once great site Ciao was, its current decrepit state makes me deeply sad.
Maybe it is time for me to depart, maybe it is time to give the whole site a decent burial, I don't know…….
……whichever, I have never written a review and been so keen to read other members opinions of both it and the subject matter covered in it……
Wow, I'm stunned that I'm reading this review almost five years after you wrote it and the problems you raised still haven't been ironed out. In fact, I think they've probably been multiplied by these pesky banner ads! Dooyoo is a much more pleasant experience for me these days X