One of the simplest and most effective ways to evaluate one option is to compare it with a second. This is hugely more effective than going with the first thing that comes to mind (a snap decision), or endless study of many options. (I previously covered this comparison technique in posts here about choosing from long lists using Excel; and here about police lineups; and here about forming opinions and personal biases.)
Most of us have used comparison tools when shopping for a digital camera or DVD player. There is now an ad-free resource network to compare social networking services, as well as dog breeds, instant messaging clients, and gaming sites.
Here is a screen snippet resulting from my request to compare Friendster, Lava Life and MySpace. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
Things to keep in mind when using such tools:
- Does the information appear to be correct and up-to-date?
- Does it appear to be independent, or is it skewed for some reason? (As the disclaimer says, "All information on this site is deemed reliable but not guaranteed and should be independently verified." Who has time for that?)
- Does the information cover what you really care about, such as privacy and trust?
- And finally, in the days and weeks after your decision, did it work out better than without the comparison tool?