Those looking for unbiased, trustworthy product reviews once had an easy first step: Check Wirecutter. But as Charlie Warzel points out, it’s not so simple anymore. Between its parent company growth expectations, the increasing influence of product discussions on Reddit and other social platforms, and SEO chicanery, Wirecutter often feel a little bit … less. But with a pleasingly meta approach, Warzel tries to answer his own question. Is the result definitive? Impossible to say. But such is true of any product review these days.

Ultimately, Wirecutter’s mission to “tell you what the best particular product in a category is at any given moment” has become a herculean, if not impossible, task; the internet is too big, and it’s filled with too much stuff. And, as many online shoppers learned during the height of the pandemic, purchases don’t always follow the cold, rational logic of a Wirecutter recommendation. We panic-buy; we impulse-buy; we buy to fill a hole in our lives. “The ideal review is that you test everything and then there’s one product that works well for most people,” a former Wirecutter editor, who asked to speak anonymously because they still work in media, told me. “But who is ‘most people’?”