As many of you know, I often ask about products, and due to the fact that I'm new, I expect to find a "best" item for a large variety of situations. Many of you have taught me that this just can't happen. Great for me for wanting to save money by getting the most versatile gear, but I've come to the realization that backpacking is about specialization. Gear is made for certain situations and until you know HOW to use the gear it's going to be tough to stretch the intended uses.
I think it would be AWESOME if what Miguel suggested in a recent thread were to become a reality. (the post is in the thread about proper pitching of a TT Rainbow) I think that many people join this site to learn, not just about the quality of gear, but how to use it as well. I do glean some information from reviews which say things about wind protection being necessary or the like, but more detail would never hurt.
In fact, I think that a whole section dedicated to beginners would draw a lot more people to become members.
A recent post illustrated how misconceptions about ULers exist and a beginners section would help people shed these views. It would allow beginners to see how gear is intended to be used instead of leaving them to assume or to end up asking vague questions about what is the "best" stove, tent, etc... that require Benjamin (No one has rung this point home for me more than Benjamin..) and others to prompt for more details!
Furthermore, it would be really great to have a kind of AI that would show people possible gear choices. You could plug in details regarding the seasons of intended use, altitude, length of trip, etc.. (I'm sure more experienced people could come up with better details) and then show gear that would work well in the scenario. So you would have a menu that asks what you are shopping for (backpack, stove, tent, sleeping bag, etc..) and then asked relevant questions.
For example, someone shopping for a stove would click stove and then they would be presented with a question like "What is the most important factor to you: weight, ease of use, cold weather operation etc..," depending on their answer a new question would be asked until finally a list of stoves would be compiled. Links could be embedded that direct the user to relevant information to help them answer questions that may be confusing (Not familiar with alochol stoves? Here's a nifty article for ya) Of course, the list wouldn’t be an end all, but it would be a GREAT starting point. It could even be tied to a database on the site which pulled up ratings of products on the final list so that people could see, for example, which alcohol stove the majority of people prefer in windy conditions. Maybe there could be a list of all stoves to start with and then, with each click, the list narrowed itself down until only the stoves with all the relevant tags remained. It is easy for me to see this idea spread to tents (cold weather, persistent wind, weight, snow, # of people, etc..) backpacks (weight of pack, Max weight to be carried, size of pack, durability, etc..) and other categories.
The key would be to have the list based on REAL field experience, not which manufacturer is paying to be included. I feel strongly that all items should be run thru the hands of a total beginner as well as the "experts" to find out how an average person uses the gear and what kind of problems they run into. All I ask, if that if anyone anywhere starts working on this that they talk to me about it and make me the honorary beginner tester!