The Paucity Of Tech Comment & Analysis

Last week SEOmoz announced that, after a couple of failed attempts, it had raised $18 million in funding.

Now, I’m a fan, so I’m, biased, but to me this was a great story. A company that, to use the tech world’s favourite jargon, pivoted, from a search agency to an SaaS supplier; one which has built a loyal and thriving community; one whose CEO is not only charismatic, but radically transparent, even down to sharing his past experiences when he tried, and failed, to raise funding; and one which, despite this lack of funding, had been able to grow revenue and profit. The press release anouncing the funding even used web memes.

In short, I assumed that this would be picked up by all the tech blogs. Nope.

It was covered, don’t get me wrong (an article in Forbes is nothing to sniff at), but it was nowhere to be seen on TechCrunch, the site that I still consider to be the main port of call for news on startups. This was particularly strange seeing as other SEO companies, with less interesting stories, have been picked up and had their press releases quoted almost verbatim.

As I said, I’m biased (I really like Rand and the mozzers), but for me this was telling. Because I’ve started to realise that there’s a big gap in the world of tech content, and it’s highlighted by Techcrunch and its bastard offspring, PandoDaily.

The issue is, as I see it, threefold.

1. Too many techblogs concentrate on news without analysis, and, in doing so, are guilty of the same thing that Fred Wilson recently accused many VCs of falling victim to being part of a ‘momentum herd‘ – chasing the hot new thing.

This means that it becomes very hard for readers to understand what’s actually important, as context is lost when everything is the ‘best new thing, ever!‘, and also means that tech blogs (and magazines – Wired UK is pretty much full of similar meaningless snippets) are slowly commodotising their brand, as news is increasingly worthless (as it’s so common). The stuff that has the value, is analysis.

2. Real, in-depth analysis is something that very, very few tech sites seem capable. Danny Sullivan is a master of it when it comes to search, but other than him, I tend to look to non-journalistic sites: the aforementioned Fred Wilson at AVC, the guys over at tech consultancy Broadstuff. Wired’s magazines does have some good stuff in it, but it’s outweighed by reams of fluff, and frankly isn’t worth the subscription anymore.

By no means do I believe that you have to have worked in a sector in order to be able to analyse it (anyone who has had the misfortune of watching the old boy’s club that is Match of the Day will know what I mean. And, indeed, the likes of The Economist, or Charles Arthur at The Guardian, show that there are journalists who do know what they’re talking about.

Indeed, from my time working at two B2B publishers (Centaur & RBI), I know that real journalists can work in almost any sector, and through research and building connections with experts, can provide true insights. The guys at econsultancy, despite being entirely online only, also strike me as coming from this more professional, B2B, school of journalism, and the quality of their content reflects this (Patrico Robles’ constant refusal to accept that hype outweighs reason, deserves particular praise).

3. The bubble seems to be encouraging people’s egos to write cheques their talent can’t cash, with people still trying to say that professional bloggers are different to journalists, whereas, really, the only difference is the CMS.

Rather than write about the cluster-f**k that is PandoDaily, I’ll instead link to an article that pretty much sums up most of my feelings, and pull out a couple of choice quotes, like this one:

Recently, I’ve noticed coverage veering dangerously off-piste, with bizarre and wrong-headed rants from Lacy about other women’s endeavours to uniquely stupid suggestions about picking up tips from cab drivers to odd-ball broadsides that exhibit mountainous levels of lazy prejudice and financial ignorance.

Or:

At a time when it was clear that the market desperately needed a high-quality alternative to TechCrunch and the lesser publications orbiting it, I find it remarkable that Lacy opted to start a blog full of the same old garbage: right down to the pathetic internecine wars, which any publication with dignity would have conducted behind closed doors and which are nowseriously alienating readers.

Or this, something I had already written about:

PandoDaily’s corporate culture suffers from the company being defined by its enemies. Many – perhaps most – of its staffers come from TechCrunch, not a journalistic operation of the highest rank in the first place, and much of the editor’s time in the early days of launching PandoDaily was spent not defining future goals but trying to get its nemesis, Erick Schonfeld, fired, in part by spitefully poaching his best writers. Lacy may have been successful at that endeavour, but her victory has come at terrible cost.

Or, finally:

PandoDaily’s writers have got into the habit of piling onto commenters, without waiting to see if they’re speaking sense or not, as a sort of prophylactic measure. It gives the deeply unedifying sense of a playground gang – something TechCrunch never had, even when Paul Carr was at his most brutal. Carr always did it with wit and wisdom: at PandoDaily, it’s just bullying.

Readers notice, and some of them – at least, so they claim – have already stopped returning as a result. Given that this sector is so over-reported on, there’s no reason not to believe them. This is a horrible shame, because with relatively few adjustments, PandoDaily really could become the site of record.

Yep, I’m one of those readers who won’t be going back, but at least I’ll be able to head over to The Kernel though, the place that this piece originated from, won’t I?

Well, no. Because, whilst it’s name is, I presume, meant to reference the old saying the kernel of truth, to me it brings to mind the Colonel you see beaming down at you outside fast-food restaurants around the world: like their food, the content gives you an initial hit of pleasure, but it’s bad for you really, based as it is on sniping and resentment (despite lambasting Pando for trying to get Erick Schonfeld fired, the author tried to do exactly the same thing himself), rather than sugar and fat.

But what about Techcrunch? Not as long as people are making excuses about bloggers not being journalists, or as long as MG Siegler ruins what can be reasonably insightful analysis, with his irrational love affair with Apple.

Mashable? I stopped reading that when they started publishing articles that I’d have been embarrassed to write as a strident student journo, whilst their constant ability to take things that little bit lower only confirms that decision.

So, there you go.

A state of the tech blog nation that would be enough to make you weep, if it weren’t for the fact that I can get my news from AllThingsD (owned by the Wall Street Journal), and analysis from the likes of The Economist (in print since 1843) or The Guardian (a newspaper founded in Manchester). Death to old media anyone?

Image by Sam Beckwith on flickr.

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2 comments

  1. Blake Waddill

    Love this article. Couldn’t agree with you more. I had to stop reading Tech Crunch because I couldn’t get past the insanely bias Apple fanboys flaming Android/Google. I love that Danny’s attitude is”give me something that works”and doesn’t okay brand favorites.
    That said. Rand is an outspoken critic of Apple’s culture which Tech Crunch only enforces, so it makes sense they wouldn’t want to give SEOmoz love…

  2. Chris

    Completely agree on all your points in this article. That said, it comes as no surprise that the likes of Techcrunch/Mashable pick and choose their “success” stories.

    If you think of the businesses reported on Techcrunch (I’ll use TC as a short hand for tech blogs) as up and coming pop acts (think Smash Hits circa 1986) then the ones that get coverage aren’t necessarily the “best”, most popular, most innovate or even most glamorous; they’re the ones that the journalists are interested in, have been given most PR or have been badgered into covering by readers.

    SEOMoz, a company that has quietly got on with being really good and has grown on the back of word of mouth, rather than industrial media backing, is more akin to the success found by the Arctic Monkeys. No Smash Hits, no Top of the Pops but a clever use of “earned” media to find and build their community.

    SEOMoz are a media company (i.e. every business is). They’ve built their following themselves…Whiteboard Friday, the Blog, partnership with Distilled, it’s all there and it makes traditional media (by this I include Techcrunch et al) a hotbed of nepotism and cliques.

    In fact, I for one rely far more on my community to share content and information about, as you put it “the best new thing ever”. In the same way I stopped buying a newspaper in about 1999, site like Techcrunch, although industry specific, take an equally generic view, that makes them as defunct as Smash Hits. Again, as you rightly point out eConsultancy can do it but only because they’re not “publishers”, they’re part of a community.

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