On The Verge
Ben Brooks talking about The Verge last December:
The amount of posts is astonishing. The scoops, breaking news, features, interviews, product reviews are there.
What’s missing is compelling content.
When a bunch of writers left Engadget and formed The Verge there was, as Brooks picked up on, a sense of an implicit promise from Topolsky, Patel, and crew. Brooks has that unfulfilled promise as the basis of his post “The Failed Promise of ‘The Verge’”, and he hits very successfully on one of the major problems in technology news today; publications don’t take a stance.
Increasingly the best insight, the best information for your purchasing decisions and the best all round coverage is coming from individuals, not larger organisations like The Verge, Gizmodo and Engadget. Daring Fireball is probably the best example of how a single person’s insight and genuine opinion can be more valuable than a whole newsroom of otherwise intelligent and talented writers who are far too preoccupied with removing personality from their work. Jim Dalrymple and Peter Cohen have one of the best Apple news sites around, and they do this by actively embracing their opinions, because as Jim Dalrymple discussed in the most recent Talk Show with Dan Benjamin, they owe it to their readers to call it as they see it.
I question the value of an organisation reviewing a product and then never telling the reader whether they, at a fundamental level, think you should get it or not. As Brooks explains, what you get from The Verge is “I like it, but who knows if you will.”
Something Brooks doesn’t mention is the Verge Scores segment of their reviews (and indeed, score systems are a common feature across many tech sites). The problem with these is that they try to put subjective views on an equal and concrete scale. For example, if two different reviewers give two different products 7.6, have they stated that both products are exactly equal? The HTC Rezound and the Motorola Atrix 2 both achieved 7.6, so how do I tell the difference. Given that so little personality and opinion is given generally across The Verge, am I able to judge which reviewer’s concerns more closely align with mine?
For that matter, what is the difference between 7.2 and 7.3? Does that mean that the 7.3 is undoubtedly better? What if one reviewer is always conservative in his hardware ratings and another more liberal, does that mean I should mentally adjust the score according to which of the many reviewers is rating the product?
This just obfuscates the answer to a simple question: what should I get? The Verge cannot and will not answer this question.
And then there is the sensationalism.
Vlad Savov posted this story on the 26th. It talks about a guy, Sahas Katta, who wrote on his blog that Microsoft cheated him out of a win in the “Smoked by Windows Phone” contest at a Microsoft store. In this first post The Verge seems happy to believe him, but they do say that they are unable to verify his story.
Then a few hours later Nathan Ingraham posted this article. In a few short hours the story went from unverifiable to absolute truth, is labelled a “controversy” with Ingraham stating that Microsoft were denying Katta “his just reward”, despite the Verge acknowledging that the Microsoft rep who apologised said he wasn’t there and didn’t know what happened. If The Verge did somehow verify Katta’s story, they made no reference as to how they did so. Tom Warren posted this the next day, and again it is asserted the Sahas did in fact win and is telling the truth with absolutely no evidence.
The particulars of this story are uninteresting to me. It sounds plausible that Katta was cheated by a Microsoft store employee, and the Smoked campaign is obviously set up in such a way that Microsoft will win (why this is suddenly a controversy I don’t know as it was obvious from the start). To me, what stinks about this is that The Verge are extremely willing to devote two ‘story streams’, five articles (two of which are editorials), and two days worth of front page coverage to a story that some guy put on his blog, with absolutely no evidence supporting its authenticity. Anecdotally most people are aware that A. people who lose contests often claim their opponent was cheating, and B. anybody can say anything on the internet and you shouldn’t just take them at their word. This is shoddy journalism.
John Gruber also recently pointed out the sensational tendency of The Verge when comparing temperatures of the new iPad, which The Verge later changed after Gruber’s article criticised them. I think we’ll see a lot more of this crap as they start to enjoy the page views this can bring.
In the long run, sensationalism hurts views, as Gawker will no doubt be aware. As long as you get no worthwhile opinion from a publication, you are going to start looking elsewhere for your content. I suggest Daring Fireball or The Loop.
The bottom line from all of this is that The Verge seemed like it was going to be different, is not and was not, and nobody should bother reading it any longer.
I had to present in front of about 25 people on Thursday. It was a ten minute presentation about Feng Zikai, an influential Chinese cartoonist.
I decided that I would use Keynote, so I whipped up all the relevant slides and had it looking good. I used Futura Bold for these great looking titles.
Then when I had it all looking exactly the way I wanted I remembered that I wouldn’t be able to use Keynote on their system, so I would have to convert this document to a Powerpoint file. That was silly of me.
I figured, no big deal, I would convert it then fix all the weird stuff and that would be fine. So I output to .ppt and opened it up in Powerpoint.
Immediately it looked wrong. I had expected some weirdness, but what I hadn’t expected was that it was looking bad whilst trying to render exactly the same thing. My first assumption was that it had simply not carried over the font tweaks I had made, but on closer inspection I saw that what Keynote and Powerpoint refer to as Futura Medium look nothing alike. And it is not possible to have them looking the same, selecting Futura Medium simply has no effect. (Futura Bold looks similar across the two, but the spacing looks better on Keynote).
As well as this, Powerpoint refuses to render the Futura apostrophe.
I do not know why. Instead it inserted a horribly mismatched apostrophe in every place that I used it. The font label was “MS” then a bunch of garbled characters. I have to assume this is some weird bug, but the best I could do was use the Gill Sans apostrophe, which still looks totally out of place, but not as much.
After this, I went to save the file on to a pen drive which I would use to transfer it to the system in the presentation room. In previous Powerpoint versions I believe there was a way to embed fonts into the file but this is not the case with Powerpoint for Mac 2011. After a frustrating hour of tweaking goddamn fonts this was extremely irritating.
The Help Menu offered this extremely useful solution: Use Times New Roman or Arial.
I’m having difficulty imagining that my usage scenario is an uncommon one. That is, I imagine that an extremely large number of people who are doing presentations will have to save it to some small storage medium and transfer it to a foreign computer network that is hooked up to all the projectors and sound system. Why, then, is visual continuity not a priority? Does everyone just have to put up with Arial when they are making important sales pitches or trying to scoop a new job? It is possible to save as a PDF or as images, but these do not allow for easy presentation on the other side.
Speaking of the other side, when I did eventually load up the file in the presentation room I was presented with an entirely different set of problems, after I had choked back the tears at seeing the sea of Arial on the screen in front of me, of course. The UI of whatever the hell version of Powerpoint that loaded up was completely different, and I had no idea how to run the damn slideshow. After I asked someone, and got through my un-punchy visuals with bland title slides, I took a seat so that I could be subjected to everyone else in the group giving their presentations. The next person up loaded their presentation, and lo and behold, Powerpoint now presented another equally different UI. But that’s not all. Over the course of 25 presentations, three different UIs were served on a single computer. Each had a different, obscure, placement of the play button. I noted that every presentation used Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri.
After all of this crap, we were all chatting and guess what? It turns out that apart from about five people, every single person there was a Mac user. We are all forced to buy and use a product that barely even works properly, even though there are better alternatives, because Windows and Office are the entrenched systems that the IT guys use.
It is often noted that whilst Mac sales are increasingly getting stronger, Windows still massively dominates worldwide. I wonder what the numbers are like if you just look at people under thirty. My guess is that the people who are going to make up the majority of computer sales over the next 30 years, people currently under thirty and people not yet born, are going to dramatically drive the overall traditional computer experience towards the Mac or Mac-like experiences.
Current wisdom is that traditional computer sales will fall, and devices like the iPad will become more common as most people’s main computers. Whilst I entirely agree with this, I do still think that most people will own a traditional computer of sorts for the near future. The scenario I imagine is one where a person buys a Mac or Windows machine less and less frequently, and uses it less and less as well, whilst buying a highly mobile device more frequently. People might buy an iPad every, say, two or three years and a laptop or desktop over dramatically longer periods, something like five to seven years perhaps. The traditional machine fills in the gaps of the tablet’s functionality, which are fewer and fewer with each iteration.
After this near future passes, either something new comes along or we’re entirely using these new devices, of which the iPad will be the dominant force. An experience like the aforementioned will be much rarer because clunky old crap will just not sell.
A great quick guide for some excellent font combinations for printed documents.
My favourite (that isn’t in that guide) currently is:
- Futura Bold as Title in 24pt with +6% character spacing.
- All caps Futura Bold as Section Titles in 18pt with +6% character spacing.
- Gill Sans as Body in 14 pt (maybe 12pt) with +2% character spacing.
- Gill Sans Italics for Footnotes in 10pt or 11pt.
There’s a really irritating bug/oversight in OS X that is present in Lion and remains in Mountain Lion, that was never there to the best of my memory in Snow Leopard.
It occurs when dragging a CD or mounted disk down to the trash to eject it. In Snow Leopard it would say “Eject” and change the icon accordingly, but in both Lions it says “Trash”, which to me is irritating and misleading. The trash icon still changes to the standard OS X eject icon.
And also a CD:
What makes this (absolutely tiny and insignificant) bug doubly annoying is that when you ctrl-click it displays the correct nomenclature, “Eject”, which just makes the user even more likely to think that they are going to trash their CD if they drag it to eject.
Details, Apple, details!