Tech blogs play an important role in the larger journalism community. I have long said that tech journalists will often be at the forefront of our industry. It is an occupational hazard. This is possibly why Dan Gillmor was one of the first to blog (don’t forget he started out as a tech reporter). I refer to my time as a tech reporter as the saving grace of my career. I was studying blogs and internet culture so it made sense for me to dive in head-first. Not only are tech blogs/reporting/journalism at the forefront but the way they interact makes an important statement about where our industry is and where general internet culture has become mainstream and accepted.
I do not think we hold our tech blogs to high enough standards. I think we let them take us on cult of personality rides and we get infatuated. Today I am a total back-seat tech-writer. As I read various tech blogs I find myself wondering how I would cover issues. I have lots of praise but also constructive criticism for the current tech blog scene. Since people often ask me what sites I follow to stay on top of things I figure a post like this will let me rant and answer that question.
Disclaimer: I’m focusing on organizations that cover technology. If this list were to include tech pundits or individuals (Kottke, Laughing Squid, Rough Type, etc) it would be much longer. I am also excluding sites that cover the cross-section of technology and media (Nieman, MediaShift, Buzzmachine, PaidContent, etc). This is not an exhaustive list. It’s tech-blogging 101 for those that need to be introduced.
So without further adieu – my list of tech blogs and their vibes.
Right now Read Write Web is the New York Times of tech blogs. This isn’t just because they have a syndication deal (which they do) but because RWW provides a sense of analysis (without conjecture) that other tech blogs don’t. I recently met Richard MacManus, the founder of RWW, who confirmed that their emphasis was on context rather than speed. This may seem counter-intuitive in a world of speed and constant updates, but it is what separates them and as a reader I appreciate it and trust them more than most tech blogs because of it.
It’s hard for me to objectively describe Wired. Not that objectivity is the goal, but I worked there for the first year out of college and it is still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. As a result, thinking about Wired gives me warm fuzzies and I know first hand how much love and attention goes into the editorial process. As a result this is a go-to source of tech news. It is for many people because Wired is one of the first sources of tech news. For some, like my father, Wired isn’t a news source – it’s a cultural touchstone. It represents the tech revolution itself.
TechCrunch is guilty of the cult-of-personality. You cannot separate organization from Mike Arrington who has shaped it from the ground up. This is not a bad thing. Mike has a strong personality and he knows it. His character is all over TechCrunch. So whenever I read TechCrunch (which from what I can tell values speed over context) I have to put on my Mike Arrington goggle filters. That said, TechCrunch pushes boundaries in reporting and that is why I love following them. They have mastered the art of respectfully changing an article based on reader comments. At one point they even tried to kill embargoes for their site. I am sure it didn’t work – bu that kind of radical thinking shows the role that techblogs can have and that’s why TechCrunch is notable. They are not afraid to push boundaries while covering technology.
Mashable (Updated from Comments)
The truth of the matter is – I love some of the PEOPLE at Mashable (Vadim Lavrusik and Tamar, etc) but I DON’T like Mashable. In fact, it comes to mind as a tech blog that I wish would step it up. First: In tone and ethos it comes off way too much like MTV. Everything is very flashy, glitzy, etc. It makes an old man like me have seizures. More important: They are a tech company disguised as a news site. They write how-to’s, lists, digg-bait, etc. As a result they have a dog in the tech-race that they are covering. I think all tech blogs have a dog in the race to some extent – but none more obviously so than Mashable IMHO. I like their content when I’m in a certain mood. But if I’m not in that mood – it can actually irk me.
I like Venture Beat because it is straight and to the point. Follow the money. This is the Wall Street Journal of tech blogs. I’ve known a few writers who have worked here over the years and I think they do a good job of following the industry. It’s also interesting to note that like GigaOm this blog was started by a tech reporter from a newspaper. Today in journalism we talk about entrepreneurialism and personal branding. These tech blogs are living proof of why.
Similar to Venture Beat this is an example of a tech reporter who owned his beat and turned that into owning his own media company. That is admirale and has a larger lesson for the journalism industry. In fact, GigaOm is becoming more and more of a general purpose destination. They cover everything from the environment and media, but with a tech spin. They also do a good job of letting you know the individual writers including Mathew Ingram (one of my all time favs).
In truth I am not an Engadget or Gizmodo fan. My interest in technology is rarely gadgets or gizmos. These two sites occupy the same space in my mind. The recent iPhone 4 kerfuffle was notable. I think these blogs tend to be caught up in shiny new play things and that is not interesting. It’s straight consumerism. They might as well be printing catalogs for Apple and other companies. Just my anti-consumerism two cents.
I’ve been following Business Insider back when it was called Silicon Alley Insider. One of the defining things about this site is it’s New York attitude and approach to covering technology. They are distinctively not caught up in the hype machine that can be silicon valley. I love this about them. They also BLEW ME AWAY with their investigation on Facebook. Talk about holding a company’s feet to the fire.
I love this site for thinking out of the box. This shows you how technology can improve your life on a very practical level. Whereas Venture Beat is all about following the money, this site is about following the practical uses for your everyday life. For that, it is invaluable.
I’m including this as an example of a niche tech site. There are tons of these (some of the best cover specific sites like All Facebook). They are fantastic when you want to dive deep. Search is arguably the most important online industry and this is a great blog to follow it. I also recommend John Battele’s Searchblog if you want the go-to independent blogger source and for many of these niche topics the independent blogger who covers the beat is just as insightful as the niche organization.
The last on the list Silicon Valley Watcher does an amazing job of staying very personal (Tom Foremski) but with an air of professionalism. It’s just a good read. No final analogy (although I think Tom’s time at the Financial Times is reflected in this blog.
So what is your favorite source of tech news and how do you describe it?
As many a reader know, I love drawn out analogies. Here are some of my favorites.
- Journalism bloggers as musicians
- The Community Dream Team: Tech versions of the 1994 Basketball Dream Team. Lawrence Lessig was the Larry Bird of my Internet Dream Team.
- Cities as relatives (I will soon include Columbia Missouri to the list of “my three cities”).
- Community journalism as baseball and as a social gathering.