A plea for more humanity in tech reporting: in defense of David Pogue

A plea for more humanity in tech reporting: in defense of David Pogue

On Tuesday Yahoo launched Yahoo Tech, a new web site spearheaded by well-known tech pundit David Pogue and comprising work from long-time veterans of tech magazines and the blogosphere. Pogue explained that the new site is aimed at mainstream consumers, people who don't ordinarily read technology sites. He promised to use plain language, steering away from techno-jargon and the self-obsession that marks the low point of tech journalism - buzzword bingo and yawn-inducing inside baseball coverage of the tech industry that regular joes simply don't care about.

"Trust me, they're great," Pogue said, referring to tech sites like The Verge, Engadget, the new Re/code and Gizmodo (using caricatural variations of their logos to avoid naming names). "Thing is, they're by geeks, for geeks. We'll be doing things a little different here at Yahoo Tech."

Predictably, Pogue's damnation with faint praise got tongues wagging on Twitter and in tech blogs far and wide, especially by the staffs of those publications. How dare he suggest that their content wasn't suitable for the mainstream audience!

As someone who's written about technology for nigh on 20 years, I admit that at least initially, my knee jerked along with the fine folks at tech sites that Pogue mentioned. It's hard to be told you're irrelevant.

But Pogue is right.

Working at a computer retail store since last April, I've developed more sympathy and a lot better understanding of the vast majority of people who actually use the devices and software we here at iMore write about every day. And the fact is that for better or worse, most of them will never visit this web site. They'll never come to any tech site. Because quite frankly, they have much better things to do with their time.

They'll never visit here for the same reason that they might drive a car but never read a car magazine, or use a hundred different household appliances and other gadgets but never read Popular Mechanics or even Consumer Reports.

Most people just want their stuff to work. They're not concerned with how it works, or why it works, or what it takes to work. It's a tool. It's a tool that they know they want, that they think they need, and that they have been convinced to buy, either through marketing, through the efforts of a sales person, through the recommendations of their friends or through a variety of other means.

But it remains a black box, for the most part. A mysterious gadget that does what they need it to, until it doesn't, and that's often when they walk in my door.

By the same token, Pogue has an uphill battle to climb with Yahoo Tech. Some mainstream consumers mistake Yahoo rival Google for "the Internet" in general; expecting them to have the knowledge, will and patience to seek out Yahoo Tech for easy-to-understand tech news is bound to be a challenge. Getting tech news from a web site, even one as relatively well known as Yahoo, is going to limit your audience.

But as someone who's written countless books introducing the uninitiated to technology and as the tech columnist for the New York Times for years, Pogue is in a unique position, and it's one that he plans to take advantage in this new Yahoo venture. I wish him the best of luck.

Some of the same principles that Pogue says guide Yahoo Tech guide us at iMore: making tech more accessible, demystifying the technology, and writing in plain language that's easy to understand.

To my colleagues in the tech press: Stop taking yourselves so seriously. Really. Lighten up. Whether you believe it or not, the vast majority of people out there don't care about what you're talking about (and yes, I'm talking to myself a bit here too).

Trying to make tech accessible and more human is a good thing. It's something we in the tech press should all aspire to do more often.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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A plea for more humanity in tech reporting: in defense of David Pogue

33 Comments

Coming from IT, it's very true; most don't read the tech sites. I follow this stuff because my feet are in the tech waters all the time. Most of my family and co-workers have no idea about the latest tech and frankly, wouldn't care at all unless what they have wasn't doing something they wanted.

Funny really. If it's a reality show, football or about Miley Cirrus, they know.. if not, it might as well as be from Mars..

I read the tech blogs too because I need to stay informed, and I HATE it every day, because a lot of unnecessary BS gets posted, apparently to cater to a bunch of people who have nothing better to do than to browse tech blogs all day. I swear, it's like these sites have a daily quota or something to fill. I mean, when I go to sites like The Verge, I'm not going there to read about US drone strikes, the polar ice caps melting, or to find out that Intel's earnings rose or fell by 1.4% this quarter.

So, while I don't need my tech news dumbed down, I could definitely deal with something that's a little more focused on, um.... you know, tech. They're gonna have to have an RSS feed or something though, cuz I can't deal with that tile-based crap they have going on.

Neither TheVerge, nor Gizmodo are aimed at tech geeks. Have you ever read an article on TheVerge? Their reviews? Any of their longform articles? They're beautifully written and presented, with no tech jargon what so ever. They're specifically aimed at the average joe.
Visit AnandTech if you want to know what 'for geeks, by geeks' really looks like.

Amen! Even as a technology enthusiast I've found myself looking down upon people for their lack of knowledge of technology in the past. I've tried to be better about this. Things like technology are tools, that honestly, the majority of people don't need to know the intricate workings of. They just need it to do its job.

Any more, when I see someone struggling with a new user interface or some complexity of technology, I don't blame the person using it as much. I look to the designer and ask why wasn't this interface easier for a new user.

"And the fact is that for better or worse, most of them will never visit this web site. They'll never come to any tech site"

To be honest, it'd be nice to see iMore go in the opposite direction. If those folks aren't visiting here and "they never will" then why is it a good thing for iMore to cater towards those who aren't coming?

There's a reason many wait to read reviews from Anandtech. To be honest, I view The Verge, you guys, and others as becoming too (or at least catering too much towards) mainstream already. I still read iMore but have to admit my anticipation or enthusiasm towards the site has fallen a bit in the last year. But at least you're still in the bookmarks. I stopped going to the Verge.

If those folks aren't visiting here and "they never will" then why is it a good thing for iMore to cater towards those who aren't coming?

It isn't about trying to reach out to people who aren't ever going to visit the site, it's about providing context and meaning to the stuff we're reporting on; to do so in a holistic way that provides a better sense of why what we're reporting on is important rather than just spewing facts, figures and buzzwords.

Why do "facts and figures" get lumped in with "buzzwords" as things that are spouted? Facts and figures are (nearly always) good, and buzzwords are (more often than not) bad. Putting things in a meaningful context is helpful, but as the OP said, iMore's readers are people who, for better or worse, read sites like iMore. That is to say, they have sufficient interest in tech to read a tech-focused site and the context they--or we, really--require is different from the context necessary for an "average joe" who, as noted, will likely never read anything on iMore.

I'm not saying you guys do a bad job of this, but I don't like the suggestion that having "facts and figures" is a bad thing and should be done less.

+1 The two posts above is the usual us vs them attitude that is everywhere. It's techno-literate vs "mainstream" in this case. Why not just report the tech in whatever way and let readers read it or not. Why should it be aimed at a certain group because the other group wont or don't view it?

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I think one if the biggest deterrents to tech sites is us. The community. Some worse this others. I would rank iMore/Mobile Nations among the more civil, but there are some Apple sites out there (and many non Apple as well) where the frequent posters are mean spirited, including some moderators who go after anyone with a different opinion, no matter how well or kindly stated.

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Totally agree...I can honestly say there are 2-3 sites I stopped going to all together bc of the comment sections. I saw it coming with 2 of the sites & reached out to the site owners that some moderation was needed in the comments as it was bringing the quality/credibility of the site down.....one ignored it & the site is a ghost town now & the other switched to a diff comment system which makes it a bit more tolerable.

i pretty much agree. I find some of the fanbase bickering quite a turnoff. People are civil here in that they don't curse at each other and such which is great. But i will say in some forums, can't speak on imore as i'm not in them, but the old webos forum was toxic. You either prayed to the gospel of webos, it's eternal resurrection, and it's status as the one true OS, or you were shouted down. HP was evil, Everyone was evil, Apple was evil, imore was evil. And i've seen similar toxicity in the tech community in other contexts be it xbox people cursing at playstaytion people, or mac vs windows, or COD vs battlefield or simply anti-COD, lol. And then there are a few bad apples that will talk down to someone less knowledgeable seeking help. Have you ever seen on a forum somebody ask a question only to have the first few responses be "google it" or "dude a hundred people asked search for it" no link provided, or "why do you want to do that? that's lame. do this?" etc. That drives away people i think.

I think iMore is already down to Earth and very approachable to most, albeit with a decided Apple slant which is why I come here.

To sum up your article: use a tool, don't be one.

Still, some things need to be pointed out, particularly when specs no longer matter. When there is no noticeable wait state, doubling the speed doesn't matter. When a display is so fine that you cannot see individual pixels then doubling that loses half your visual data. You should not sit any closer to a TV set than four times the height, so measure the distance from where you normally sit, measure, and do the math. The emphasis should always be on use cases, what is practical and ideal and the line where better is no longer really better.

Love your columns and appearances on the iMore video podcast which I watch on my Apple TV.

Specs don't matter? That's nonsense. Updated specs lead to better use cases. This has been true the entire history of computers or smartphone hardware.

You can't just talk about effect while saying the cause doesn't matter.

My point is that at some point specs cease to matter when you can no longer tell the difference. Indeed, making a screen that is double the resolution of what your eye can discern effectively loses half the data because you cannot see it. So there is a point where increased specs can actually cause a loss of data so far as the user is concerned, like showing a video faster than the brain and eye can process it.

Specs do matter, but the specs that matter most are those that contribute to the user experience and reporting should mainly focus on that perspective rather than merely saying that product X has 200 while product Y has 400. That spec is meaningless unless the 400 provides a better user experience than the 200. As I have implied, sometimes the 200 is actually better even though it is less.

I think what got people irritated wasn't *what* Pogue / Yahoo Tech are doing.

The issue is *how* they described it and their reasoning for *why* it was needed.

Especially the highly polarizing map...

The whole presentation seemed like it was designed to insult everyone in some way. So at least it's fair. Right?

Peter, it's a delight to read your incisive comments. You shine a beam of light into the murky mud that passes for "communication" in Techland, where the word "solution" is used for everything except what most humans thinks it means - a 1/4 cup of Mr. Clean swirled into a bucket of water or a tablespoon of flour mixed in a cup of chicken stock. In most of Techland, clear English is losing to a world of lazy thinking and writing, leaving its intended audience in the dark.

Peter your thoughts are dead right on. I love tech but my friends and family only care if it works. Not why or how but is it intuitive and gets the job done. I would also comment on Yahoo Techs web site design. It is specifically designed for the the non techie. There is only one page with expanding tiles(windows). You are only, always on the home page. This site drove me nuts ( no search, no site map, no comments) but for my family it is a pleasure.

I predict Yahoo Tech will become an ugly troll playground. Writing to the widest audience results in hits-fostering headlines and mean-meme propagation. Yes, ideally it's about starting a conversation, but starting a fight leads to far more hits and page-views.

Not sure how it can be any more of a troll playground than c|net, ZDNET, Engadget, the Verge, Gizmodo, Business Insider, ect. already are. Ars Technica seems to have the least amount of trolls.

yeah, cause tech sites have none of that. Any site that has tons of teens and immature 20,30 somethings is gonna have that sort of stuff.

"But Pogue is right"

A statement in its own paragraph, and italicized for emphasis. And then...nothing to back up this statement at all.

Yes, there are people who do not care about the inner workings of technology, but there is no attempt whatsoever to demonstrate those other sites do not serve them, or cannot serve them, or make no effort to serve them. In other words, you take a shot against your colleagues, going so far as to call them irrelevant, decline to back it up, and then tell *them* to act better.

What bothers me more are rumor sites run by people who think they're something special just because someone leaked to them a memo Tim Cook sent to employees.

Sold!

mainstream consumers, plain language, no techno-jargon, self-obsession, yawn-inducing inside baseball.

I love it. My eyes glaze over when i hear the word developer or code or api. Not interested. I love the techsite platform zealotry as well. Not interested. Don't care about the intricacies of bitcoin or why somebody is paranoid about the NSA. I pretty much just want to know what's coming and when. When's the "NexusTV" coming out, what's it look like and what can it do. That sort of thing. First "tech site" i read was engadget but i only read it in the context of what's the next "gadget." It said gadget in the title. it was a gadget site in my mind. I didn't consider it all things in the tech world. I didn't even have that concept. So the more "inside baseball" all encompassing tech those sites became the less i payed attention. Now many are all over the place and i only glance at them.

iMore is my go to site for apple news. I read other blog sites too. I could be described as a normal guy that really loves tech, an avid Apple fan and owner. I completely understand this article. But, coming from my view, is a different problem with tech bloggers. I'm tired of the competition between blog sites that gets in the way of good blogging about topics and I'm also tired of tech bloggers patting each other on the back. Like Peter said, "get over yourself". iMore is on this list of gloating. And don't get me wrong, I really like Renee Ritchie but he seems to over analyze topics to the point of boredom. To close, Mr. Pogue hit hit it head on.

Wow! Somebody finally gets it. I wish more site would make things simple for us consumer. Some of the talk is way over our head. I will definitely check this out. Thanks!

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Good article, sir. No need for haters in either direction.
But, I wonder how many of us geeks *won't* read Yahoo Tech columns because they don't provide enough technical information, or we feel like we're being talked down to? Just asking...

In theory I agree with Pogue's idea: the tech press can be a bit obsessed with the niche use cases of power users. Anyone here ever try to explain the nuances of Android vs iOS to someone who is just going to check some email and send SMS? How about saying the word "widget" or the phrase "beautiful hardware"? You get some really funny looks. Sure, some people will get where you are coming from, but most won't.

How do you execute on this idea though? If you're looking at what is "better" for someone how do you skip the nuances? A lot of things are equal on specs, features, and how useful they are for the general population. Better question: how do you make it simple AND useful?

Sorry Peter but Pogue is a douche for his juvenile mocking of other tech sites in order to promote his own. Worse is the fact that he's engaging in logical fallacy. There's a vast middle ground between hard core tech geeks and a non-techie consumer and to categorize people into either or is asinine. It would be more fair to say that most tech sites are geared to consumer tech users as opposed to highly skilled coders, professional IT types, computer scientists, and the like. Looking at Yahoo Tech, I don't see any real difference between it and your average tech site. The so called non-techie normal person that Pogue is tailoring the site to wouldn't even read a site called Tech - Pogue is a joke.

I think Pogue isn't criticising nor mocking these websites , on the contrary, he's paying them a compliment.
And by the way, expanding a story without leaving your tab is brilliant, hint hint iMore :-)

As usual great article Peter. Alas you are right most folk don't give a rip about why the gadget does what it does they just want it to do what it says it will do. As for tech sites, that's why I am glad I found iMore. Use to get most of my iPhone news from Cnet. I got tired of all the damn opinions and hate rants. So I dug a little deeper and found you guys. Truth be told I am no geek. But I find technology exciting and love to figure out how out things work. Yeah the tech speak gets confusing every now and then but you guys strike I think a great middle ground. In fact I got more into it since becoming a member of iMore blogsite. I find a lot of the popular sites seem to have to live up to who pays for their lunches so a lot more bullshit. In the end the consumer just wants a question answered simply should I buy this? Yes or No? Gimme some good reasons for or against and I will get it. They don't really care about Apple is doom to fail because of lack of unit sales or some other crap. Just my opinion.

I admire the way that iMore is handling this issue. And Peter, you were spot on about the fact that a lot of people doesn't really visit tech sites and that not everyone would like to know how and why their devices work. Like most of my families and friends, they have other things to do so as long as their devices are working, they're fine with it. So if a site comes that may make them interested to read/know more about technology, then great. I don't see any problem with it. And for the tech sites, they'll always have a certain market and those are the ones that are really into technology.

As someone who works in IT this is the attitude why my users are the way they are. The attitude that the "mainstream" wont read it so it needs to be dumbed down. I think it's why a lot of the "mainstream" don't respect technology, don't try to learn anything new because they are not expected to or pushed to do it. As a techno-literate I try to always teach others. The family, friends and people whose computers I fix. I teach them about backup, malware, viruses etc. I teach them how to use the software and why. Where I work I send email to iPhone users on how to setup iCloud and the benefits of iCloud backup and Find my iPhone. Some may not have the time or feel it's something they need but I don't automatically assume they wont read it so why bother. I'm glad Pogue wrote the article because it's obvious that it wouldn't be a place I would visit. I don't need the cliffs notes on technology.

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