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.