I always read NYT movie reviews after I see a movie, and get a lot out of it. I would like them to treat tech as seriously. I tweeted that yesterday, and Farhad Manjoo, who writes for a number of publications about tech, asked me to explain. The Times reviews a lot of movies, some big budget shows from major studios and others that are very small productions without much distribution, and everything in between. Some movies are for adults, like Woody Allen’s latest, or The Counselor. Some are for mixed audiences — like ParaNorman (last year) and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (this year). I like those movies too, when I’m in the mood. But I also like stories I can sink my mind into, and really feel it. I have an adult’s appreciation of art.
Dave has a great point – the best reviews of movies add something to your understanding AFTER you have seen the movie. I’d say the same thing happens with good book reviews.
Not so much with tech reviews.
I would suggest that it is because the best reviewers are OF the industry they write about – they have understanding and contextual knowledge that provides insight even when you know the topic.
You see little of this in the MSM regarding tech. Thus you get ‘exposes’ suggesting Apple is purposefully making their iPhones obsolete just so we will buy new ones. Instead of recognizing that in 3 years, most batteries start to give out.
So, why don’t we see more context in the MSM with respect to tech? In the comments, Dave mentions a couple of reasons – they want to maintain access to company execs or they hope to work there someday. Both of these add a corrupting influence to useful reviews.
But they have it backwards. No one was going to snub Pauline Kael because she wrote a review panning a movie. A great critic has value in a creative industry. Becasue of that knowledge and context.
Too many tech reviewers have something else on there minds than context and knowledge. they want employment in the industry. This suggests that they are actually outside, looking in. So wonder they cannot provide context and knowledge. They are outside the industry rather than of.
These days, the best reviews are done by people who are essentially bloggers at the MSM or actual bloggers. They are already embedded in the industry. Some, like John Gruber may have very definite points of view but, like a good critic, that point of view informs.
Some sites have this also. Ars technica sometimes goes into more detail than we might want. And have very definite points of view. But even when I do not agree with that point of view, I usually learn something I had not known before.
And sometimes, I learn so much in an Ars review that I want to go out and spend $121,870.
Knowledge and context. The past and the future. If s reviewer does not have a good feeling about these things, it will not be a good review.