Review 3449

ToyTalk is a product/review style website written by freelance journalist David Smith. He started the blog in 2006 when two young children arrived in his life and he thought it would be a good idea to study, review and share information on toys that his boys (and your kids) may want to get their hands on. The blog is published by UK-based Huckleberry Media, which is also supports a sister blog about children’s books.

Unlike most product/review style blogs, this blog is a bit different because it isn’t just a list of item after item and the relevant stats for consumers to consider. There are interviews with toy manufacturers, editorial opinion pieces, and a toy tracker for those who cannot wait for the next American Girl or British Child release. The content is so well rounded that the site is interesting even if you aren’t an industry insider. I suppose that is because it is done up by an actual writer who sees a toy not just as a toy but a slice in a much larger environment. It is incredibly informative and well done.

The blog is very colorful and interesting, easy to navigate and filled with information. The bright pink header contains site navigation tabs, and the three columns below are chock full of stuff. Far right is kind of the Advertising House — lots of big colorful graphics that take you to places to shop for the toys. Far left is the site categories and navigation information. And the middle is where you find the entries.

Another point that I’d like to raise about this blog is that I do not get the feeling that it is a pay-per-review blog. I think the “advertising” section of the site speaks volumes when it outlines that graphics of a certain size and links and rates are all that there is to the back-end angle of money making on this site. A lot of blogs like this are not real honest review sites because the writers are getting paid for their opinion, so they’ll write a favorable review of a cruddy product. The “Special Coverage” portion of the advertising page is as close to pay-per-review as I think the site gets. I honestly get the feeling in my reading through of this blog that Huckleberry Media isn’t being paid for positive reviews and their opinions. And that is refreshing in a blog for cash kind of universe. If I’m wrong, they sure hide it well.

The only thing missing is a calendar to jump back to previous entries. When I review a site like this, I don’t like to read through the categories… I like a linear walk through from beginning to today’s date. Instead I went through the tabs at the top of the screen for news/reviews/features/interviews, focusing on those topics independent from one another. A walk through from the new High School Musical product to an editorial on whether or not we should pay more for toys if they’re made safer for our kids would be interesting.

Overall, this is a great industry blog. If I were a buyer for a toy store, I’d be in here all the time. As a parent, my kids are older, but I do have younger nieces, nephews and children of dear friends who may be looking for something as a gift, and this site is helpful in the category breakdown. I rate it a 4.0 and hail it as probably the best product-review style business site I’ve seen yet during my tenure here at The Weblog Review. NULL

Review 3358

Ryan Zeinert, lover of all things television and owner of the blog subject to this review, states on his header that he is wants to be “a reclusive, wealthy, alcoholic author, but 1 out of 4 ain’t bad.” I’m guessing he’s not wealthy, so strike that off the list. He doesn’t seem to be reclusive because he went to a wedding in a hall that holds 8 people comfortably and mingled with the over 100 other guests, so I guess he is capable of coming to social situations and suffering through all that that implies. He’s a damn funny writer… so that could be the one out of the four… but I think the underlying joke is the alcoholic part. And that makes me laugh. I strive to be all of those things myself.

The CDP, or Communist Dance Party, blog is a very funny read, and usually when I do these reviews I dive headfirst (not feet first, I’m not afraid of shallow waters) right into an About Me page. The Welcome to the CDP page tells me a little about where our narrator is coming from, but not a lot. He introduces us to his Missus and an evil eyed cat who has laid claim to fish, mice and a lot of money. The Welcome Page has not been updated since 2005, so I would suggest a gentle refresh if our author has the time, seeing as he’s currently writing a book and scaring visitors like me with pictures of Heath Ledger as The Joker (I will now no longer think of Heath as sexy gay cowboy, thanks to that photo).

The archives date back to 2004 and aside from all the missing graphics for entries prior to mid-May 2004 (damn you angelfire, damn you like stupid Smarch weather) the blog is a tasty mix of humorous fiction and personal insights. Ryan writes about Celia, his girlfriend (later the Missus), fancy stamps, stress, bad dreams, his ulcers, vegetarian lifestyle, Michael Moore, Politics, 72 Hours (you should read the blog to find out what that is…), TV, Top 10 Worst People Ever, moving day (best line ever: “FOR THE LOVE OF CRAP, WHY DO WE OWN SO MANY HEAVY THINGS! From now on, we buy NOTHING that weighs more than 18 pounds.”), Top 20 Scariest Movie Moments (agreed on most!), his ska band Mediocre at Best, and life in general in Madison Wisconsin.

It is your standard blogger blog, filled with bloggy goodness. Easy on the eyes, easy to navigate… the only suggestion for navigation I’d make is I highly suggest going through the archives and getting rid of all those damn ugly angelfire graphics. Again, I’m sure our esteemed author is authoring a brick and mortar book so going through old blogfodder to clean house probably isn’t on his top ten list of things to do right now.

I greatly enjoyed his wedding entry, he and the Missus were gorgeous. And I love the whole murder mystery wedding concept. Unique! Exciting! Fun! I found myself loving the blog and loving the read, and even though I’m old enough to be his hip aunt from Massachusetts, I find myself revisiting hoping for an update to the update to the update of the most recent entry on the page.

Suffice to say, Ryan, yours is the best blog I’ve had a chance to review so far. And after blogging since 2001 myself, I have to commend you in your ongoing efforts to keep the CDP afloat longer than your band. Keep up the good work, I look forward to the book.

And I must add that a Humor/Personal category should be added. Personal blogs are usually just … personal. Humor is something I would categorize as The Onion or The Sneeze, the latter having personal content but it is Humor All The Time. I’m changing the category here to Personal… but under self-inflicted duress. NULL

Review 3381

About two years ago, I decided I wanted to honestly make it a life goal to visit all 50 states. States with well-known attractions, or in my case major league baseball teams, were places I’d obviously want to visit. There were some other states I didn’t know much about or why I would end up visiting them. Vermont was one of these states, so I was very intrigued to stumble onto a blog called Vermont Travel Notes.

This particular weblog is ran by the same folks that run the Grunberg Haus Vermont Bed and Breakfast Inn and Cabins in Waterbury, VT. Being in that industry gives the author of this site instant credibility about knowing what’s going on in the area, which I appreciated as I read about the year round activities available in this Northeast state.

The categories that the author has chosen fit perfectly to a site like this – Advice, Attractions, Events, General, Nature, Shopping, and VT Products. Anytime I look into a place to visit, I immediately start researching at least five out of those subjects, and having them all located in one central location is very convenient for a potential visitor.

Each entry provides insight on a variety of things. The author does a good job of providing additional information either via related photographs or links to other useful websites.

The design of the site lacks in any creativity or extra effort. It’s a standard 3 column layout, with two columns containing various links framing the blog entries. The white text on a blue background had me squinting a few times. Various travel links down one sidebar were a nice addition. A site like this could even benefit from one of those widely available weather trackers to let potential visitors know what they can expect during any given type of the year.

Overall, this site is very useful for both travelers that are just getting started in a potential visit to Vermont or to someone that may already have plans and is just looking for a place to stay or a not-so-commercialized event to see. It falls into the travel category nicely and stays true to it’s purpose.NULL

Review 3381

Vermont Travel Notes greets the reader with a quaint image of a moose crossing the road. I thought this might be a humorous blog about traveling through Vermont or even of a Vermont-native traveling outside the state. These initial thoughts turned out to be backwards: This is a blog intended for the out-of-towner who is traveling to Vermont.

Specifically, it is for vacationers who will be staying at the Grunberg Haus, a beautiful country inn nested in the Vermont mountainside. While the blog would be useful to anyone visiting this area of the state, it seems to be designed to serve current and potential guests of the inn.

The design is a cerulean background with dashed lines separating the entries and bookend sidebars. Text is white. Understated designs are often classy and unobtrusive, subtly enhancing content, while letting it stand on its own. In this case, the design is both understated and underdone. It has an unfinished quality about it, like a spare room that looks great, but needs complimentary-colored trim paint and some curtains over the blinds.

This spare room could use more furniture, or at least bigger furniture. A few of the entries are supplemented by images. They are small and might leave the viewer wanting to see more. However, they succeed in communicating information. The images display details of Vermont sights or happenings: a painting advertising a play, a goldfinch such as one might see near the mountain inn, a scenic drive, accompanied by a vivid description of the route and sights nearby. Entries with images are the most memorable.

At first, the site only offers two pages of archives, which is somewhat confusing, when one looks to its category listing and sees, for example, 83 entries under “Events.” In order to browse through all the archives chronologically, one must select “Full Archive.” Another convenient way of browsing archives is through the search function. A search for “concert” brings up eight entries, most of which are from last summer. Since this summer is just starting, this gives a taste for what one might expect in the coming season.

To help inform the reader about sights, events, and culture in the area, entries contain links to other sites, so that one can go to the source and learn more. This is very helpful, especially since they have nothing to do with advertising, and are in the good spirit of sharing information and entertainment.

Vermont Travel Notes, though not a one-stop shop, is a good place to drop by if you’re planning a trip to the Green Mountain state.