Online customer reviews are fantastic, but there’s still something to be said for reading a critic you know. Over time, you get to know her opinions, preferences, and style. In fact, even if you can’t stand a certain critic’s advice—say, a movie critic who seems to be wrong 100 percent of the time—she’s still useful; you just learn to go to the movies she hates, and avoid the movies she loves.
When it comes to technology, getting good advice is especially important. First, you’re not paying $10 for a movie ticket; you’re paying $200 or $500 or $1,000 for a delicate piece of electronics.
Second, these days, you’re not just buying a gadget. You’re buying into that company’s ecosystem. You’re entrusting your calendar and address book to Apple, Google, or Microsoft’s online servers. You’re syncing among your phone, tablet, and computer—as long as they’re all the same brand. And you’re signing up for a certain design philosophy, like Apple’s (elegant but limited choices) or Google’s (tremendous freedom, but chaotic). In other words, you’re putting on velvet handcuffs that you’ll find very difficult to remove.
And the third reason good advice is important: Tech is coming faster and thicker every year. New, better, more; new, better, more. So many models, the companies give them names like Sony SVP1321BPXB and Panasonic KX-TG6532B. (That one was obviously an upgrade from the Panasonic KX-TG6532A.)
It’s supposed to be my job to keep up with tech developments, and even for me it’s like drinking from a firehose. I have no idea how the average person copes.
But with my team at Yahoo Tech, I’m here to do everything humanly possible to help.
Which brings us back to “know thy critic.” If you’re going to be reading my reviews of technology, you’re entitled to know me, to know what I stand for, so that you can accurately review your reviewer. Here’s a Pogue Primer.
§ I’m not a gearhead. If I were, I’d steer you to Engadget, AnandTech or Tom’s Hardware—all terrific Web sites for gadgetheads.
But what about the rest of us? What about people who want or need machines that work well, feel right, don’t cost too much—but who are left cold by version numbers, feeds and speeds?
I’m not interested in knowing which processor model is in a phone. I want to know if the phone is fast. Which may or may not have anything to do with what processor is in a phone.
So in my columns, you’ll find an emphasis on the human side of tech. On the context of a new product. How it feels, how it works, how it’s designed, whether it’s worth the money, of course—but also how it changes the game, changes society, changes us.
PayPal chief marketing officer to join e-commerce startup? Not interesting to me. Families now texting each other across the dinner table? Interesting.
A story about a tech company’s initial stock offering? Not interested. A story about recent college graduates having to be taught how to make phone calls by their new employers? Very interested. (That’s a real story, by the way.)
§ I’m not a PR person. This is a pitch that a PR person sent to me the other day (this is not a joke):
Dear David: Convergence tech and the “single screen” lifestyle have brought a rise of digital content platforms displaying a wide array of media, usually a massive library of digital content — but what’s next?
Our platform itself serves as a discoverability hub that tackles a different and underserviced set of media: lifestyle content. As thought leaders in the original content space, we take on the digital publishing space with a multiple tiered approach.
Um, OK. So what are they selling? Ebook readers? Tablets? Mouse pads?
I don’t speak that language. You’ll never catch me using terms like “price point” when I mean “price,” or “form factor” when I mean “size.” I’ll never say “content” when I mean video, “solution” when I mean product, “DRM” when I mean copy protection, or “functionality” when I mean “feature.”
Also, I will never refer to you as “the user.” (If you think about it, only two industries refer to their customers as users.)
§ Value matters. You don’t always get what you pay for. Sometimes, products and services are ridiculously overpriced. (Cellphone service, for example.) On the other hand, phenomenal bargains sometimes come along—huge usefulness for the money. Those are my favorite stories to bring you. (T-Mobile’s free international texting, for example. The basic Amazon Kindle. Netflix streaming movies.)
§ I understand tech religion, but don’t have much tolerance for it. If you’re a tech writer, you can’t say anything good about Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Samsung without hate mail hot enough to singe your eyebrows. You’ll get splashed by the same bucket o’ hate if you say anything bad about them, too.
Over the years, I’ve figured out the reason. When you insult someone’s gadget, you’re insulting him.
After all: he invested in that product. He made a bet on it. He’s staked a chunk of his self-worth on what kind of phone or laptop he carries. He bought into its ecosystem. He now has faith in that particular tech religion.
So yes, I understand why some people start hyperventilating over reviews that praise or knock this tech religion or that.
But honestly—you know what I wish? That the haters and fanboys of each tech religion could gather together in a big school gym and either (a) battle it out, (b) smoke peace pipes, or (c) finally acknowledge that this is a self-esteem issue, not a technological one.
§ For me, it’s about elegance, simplicity, and efficiency. I’d rather have a clean, beautiful interface than one that’s cluttered. If a company can cram in features without making the design confusing and belabored, great—but if not, I’d rather have a shorter list of features that work exceptionally well.
So that’s me: my preferences, my biases, my mission. My team and I will be here in this spot every day, offering reviews and commentary on consumer technology.
Or, rather, technology and its effect on consumers.
The handsome website you’re reading right now, by the way, is Yahoo Tech 1.0. Maybe even the public beta of Yahoo Tech. We’re starting small and manageable, but we have exciting plans to grow. In the coming weeks, for example, we'll add a way to search the site; a way to subscribe to your favorite columnists's stuff by email; and a new Comments system, written from scratch, that will attempt to eliminate awful anonymous drive-by potshots that add nothing meaningful to the discussion.
In the meantime, you can always write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll feature the most interesting email in my Ask Pogue column each week.
And with that, I’m hereby ringing the big silicon bell. Yahoo Tech is now open for business!