Who we are

Things you might not know about Which?

The forum

The great experiment

The forum History

Information control

The present


What we aim to do


   "The power of the Which? Online community lies with its members. You have the knowledge and experience from which others can benefit."


Our story starts in 1996, when the then CA decided to start its own ISP. In those early days, there were three key players: Dave Roberts, a CA director, Alan Stevens, another CA director and Kim Lavely, the deputy director of the CA.

The three colleagues had been pondering just how the CA could meet the challenges of a rapidly changing period in social, cultural and technological terms. Satellite Television had been born, albeit still in analogue form, mobile telephones were still roughly brick-sized and the internet was very much still the plaything of the nerds, but Roberts’ agile mind knew something was changing, and he also knew that the CA had to keep abreast of the changes. In fact he realised that if its credibility was to be retained it could even lead them.

While away on holiday he had an epiphany which involved establishing a means of communication within Which? that would allow all its members to help shape policy, submit ideas and communicate directly with the organisation’s senior leaders. With a limited budget, at a time when few knew what a forum even was, when Twitter, Facebook and Amazon hadn’t even been conceived and when the internet speed was adequate only for the odd email Dave, Kim and Alan launched the Which Online Forum to coincide with the birth of Which?’s own ISP. Promoting a personal, friendly and intimate contact style, those three developed a forum structure which quickly attracted a number of highly intelligent, gifted, resourceful and opinionated members of the CA. The arrival of the forum was prefaced with the statement "The power of the Which? Online community lies with its members. You have the knowledge and experience from which others can benefit."



It’s important at this juncture to understand the ground-breaking nature of what they did. The mid-90s was the Wild West in internet terms; ISPs were springing up, charging huge amounts for timed access, mobile 'phones were still awkward and large, email was rudimentary at best, the tablet, laptop and iPhones were still far in the future but most importantly organisations and businesses prided themselves on being remote, apart from their customers and members, and rarely engaged in any form of communication with them.

Here, the CA - a huge organisation with outstanding credentials in terms of consumer protection - was not only allowing its members to talk to it, but actively engaging with them to create a dialogue. Ordinary subscribers could actually discuss something directly with the Deputy Director - an unheard-of move in any form of big organisation - and the members could and did form their own groups to put forward ideas, concepts, initiatives and suggestions. And this all took place in 1996.

Sadly, it was all too good to last, and the current Which ‘interactive’ areas are pale shadows of what was dreamt up 18 years earlier. Fashionable ‘blogs’ now feature, often short on fact and long on opinion, while member feedback is restricted heavily, and only allowed in carefully prescribed areas, such as responses to blogs. Genuine dialogue is no longer permitted, let alone encouraged. From the ground-breaking, forward-looking, innovative organisation it was in the mid-90s, the current company has effectively turned the clock back and is largely indistinguishable from any one of the hundreds of advice magazines and blogs now endemic to the internet.

This site aims to document the history of the Consumers’ Association, the changes that took place over the 1990s - the present and identify the strengths and weaknesses that have occurred as a result of a move towards a profit-based model instead of a charity.






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