Part one of an occasional series taking a look at how ChronBlog's reader-generated content model is panning out.
Tech should be the leader
Were I going to craft an expansion plan for The Almanac, the first thing that I would look to add would be an additional blogger to handle tech. Why? Because, for one, I find tech terribly interesting and, two, because tech folks typically love to talk about tech, and talk, and type and talk etc. etc.
When ChronBlog rolled out their Chron.commons reader-generated content concept the three sections I figured would thrive were politics, sports and technology. It seems I was right on politics; Chron.commons is teeming with political blogs. Mostly from the left, or "the center" (which are typically Democrats or Republicans in disguise) but with a few Right-leaning blogs scattered in for good measure. I was also correct in my assumption that sports related reader blogs would blow-up. What I didn't figure was that the content created by the sports bloggers would be consistently superior to that generated by the paid staff. When it comes to sport news over at ChronBlog, skip the hired help and read the volunteers.
Which leads us to technology whom I thought would be a huge content driver given the unique proclivities of the tech community. Whether one is an Apple fanboy or a Microsoft Fanboy (yes, they are out there) or just a lover of all things tech there's typically a different take to be had on almost every new release or issue. Given the fact that, ChronBlog Tech Writer and Chron.com Grand poobah Dwight Silverman is an unabashed Apple Fanboy, the newspaper was in desperate need of some counterbalance, and non-negative reporting on something other than the latest minor software tweak for a program that allows Microsoft products to run on one's Apple. (ChronBlog's tech strategy being to appeal to 1/10,000th of the subscriber base I'm guessing)
Wrong. Dead wrong. As a matter of fact, there are currently only three reader generated blogs currently active on ChronBlog, with several sitting idle for over a year. Given the constantly evolving state of technology, this has left a big hole in ChronBlog's technology coverage.
What has this meant?
Well, for me at least, it's meant that I don't spend much time worrying about what ChronBlog is reporting on tech any longer. I haven't visited the Chron's tech section link, near the top of this post, in a while, I rarely check the Techblog, hell, and I don't even follow Dwight Silverman on Twitter any longer.
The reason for all of this is disinterest, and it shows where ChronBlog is missing the boat on retaining current readers. My tech reading is now exclusively online, from websites such as Gizmodo and ARS Technica. When it comes to covering the big events and, more importantly, providing Houstonians with information regarding all things tech, ChronBlog just isn't providing compelling content. Take the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) as an example. There were a host of products with real, practical applications that generated a lot of buzz, also Lenovo dazzled with their new IdeaPad U1 hybrid notebook. Also scoring high reviews were the boxee box and a host of other products some with practical applications and some that were totally impractical, but fun. (Who needs a clear plasma TV screen after all?)
ChronBlog's coverage? some linkpost mentions, a negatively-slanted article on 3D-TV (sourced from Digital Trends) and the annual Microsoft sucks post. Despite the fact that Ballmer introduced an HP tablet which should be at least as, if not more, exciting than the rumored Apple tablet. (More exciting because of the built-in software compatibility advantage that the HP is going to have.)
To be fair, I don't expect Mr. Silverman to provide good coverage of CES, an HP tablet, the Boxee box or any of the slew of smart phones that were introduced at the convention. Mr. Silverman is an Apple fanboy, he computes on a MacBook, an iPhone and is entertained by an iPod. His tech experience is 180 degrees removed from mine. (By means of comparison, I compute on a Dell XPS laptop (or a Lenovo ThinkPad at work), communicate on a Samsung Epix. I do have an iPod Nano, but for most mp3 work I use a SanDisk Sansa.) When he's writing, I'm NOT his target audience. That's the reason I don't find myself following him on Twitter, or paying much attention to his other work. For me, and I'm willing to guess several others, that's a HUGE departure from what it used to be. My hope was, at the time, that the reader blogs would supplement what was rapidly becoming a press-shop for Apple with some balanced coverage, sadly, due to either inattention or a deliberate attempt to craft content, that content hasn't appeared. During the most recent CES I moseyed over to ChronBlog to see what they were reporting, it was then that I realized the entire section is dying a slow death.
That's too bad. Because, for many Houstonians, their one link to new technology is whatever the MSM is currently writing about. What they're seeing from ChronBlog is a world of overpriced Apple products that many cannot afford, with little comprehensive coverage of the items most people are going to buy.
Speaking of CES, one of the more buzzed products at the show was Hearst's Skiff eReader. Hearst Corporation is putting a lot of hope in this little machine to revive the publishing industry. What they have failed to understand from the beginning is that you need quality content that people can apply to their everyday lives in order to be truly compelling. All of the glitzy, expensive, eReaders in the world are not going to change that fact.