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What the Muses Deign: On usefulness, timeliness, and reviews

By Porruka (porruka@macedition.com), August 30, 2002

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It’s an interesting process watching the evolution of news media in the Internet era. What was once considered the ultimate in timeliness for print (weekly) is now considered with disdain by many who approach hours-old information as tardy. It’s as though the whole of the content is judged by how quickly even the most transient of information is handled.

In fact, there’s a thread over at the Mac part of Ars Technica that is discussing issues such as this in the Mac press.

Now bringing this thread up is a bit self-serving I’ll readily admit. However, it ties directly to the mission of MacEdition and some of the coming additions.

To be useful, one must be used

The Mac press exploded over the past couple of years, and the fragments are lying all over the Web. What used to be easy to find might take trips to three, four, or even more Web sites. No one site tries to – or is – big enough to cover it all. In the past, this role was filled by that old Mac standard, the print MacWEEK. This splintering is, oddly enough, a side-effect of what I mentioned above – the standards of timeliness which are now being applied. There are several sites out there that collect the “headlines” – MacMinute and MacSurfer being two of the bigger, and AppleQuickLinks being one of the newest. There are sites that purport to do analysis – a category we fall into. Rumors? How many fingers do you have? Opinion? There’s an old saying about opinions... and the web is certainly allowing folks to air theirs.

There are plenty of geeks who will claim that this balkanization of information is for the best, that there doesn’t need to be a unified source, that many smaller sites can do just as well as a larger site. Arguably, many small sites may be as successful in some situations, but it makes life difficult for both the publisher and the reader. Imagine if you had to go to one market for your fruits, another for your vegetables, and five different stores to get the kinds of meat you want. That would be a bit tiresome, no? Why do Web surfers put up with being forced to do essentially the same? Because there’s currently no other choice.

Alternatives

Since the demise of the print MacWEEK, there has been a void that, we hope it is apparent, MacEdition is trying to fill. There still is a need for an organization that can provide a range of information – from opinion to analysis, from programming geekyness to video and sound goodness, from humor and satire from a Mac perspective to hardcore evangelism when warranted. And there’s one need that has become even more critical in recent times – accountability and ethical standards.

In the old days, a publication earned the trust of its readers and kept that trust by being trustworthy. Today, even the trust is fragmented, and too few publications promote the standards by which they publish. It doesn’t mean they aren’t trustworthy, just that it’s not apparent how seriously they take (or don’t take) their accountability. (If you want to flame me for saying this, here’s a direct-to-me email link.) MacEdition highlights where we stand in our Editorial Statement, available from the “Contact Us” page. So do I bring this up simply to toot our own horn and proclaim MacEdition gods unto the Web? No, it’s a way of introducing our long-awaited review process.

Extending the trust, one step at a time

Over the past two years, MacEdition has been striving to meet the commitments of our Editorial Statement and has, for the most part, succeeded. When we started discussing doing reviews, the statement was one of the first items mentioned. How would we do reviews "right"? Referencing the Ars Technica thread, there’s a great deal of skepticism among the tech community that reviews are anything but a vehicle to further the advertising department’s goals. That, frankly, is a reputation MacEdition can do without; and as such, it has taken a great deal of time to put the MacEdition stamp of approval on a review process. And even now we’re not there yet. What we do have is an Ethics Statement that we will ask every reviewer to sign – on real paper. When we publish our first review, we will post the Ethics Statement in its entirety; but for now, here are a few select elements:

My final review of the product is based on the final version of the product – that is, the same version that is shipping to retail customers. Similarly, I have received no support beyond what the average consumer would receive. However, I understand that I am allowed to begin work with beta versions of the software, if available, in order to gain familiarity with the product. Again, however, the final review will be based on final code.

[...]

I can attest that my evaluation was not and will not be in any way swayed by any commercial relationship or lack thereof between the company producing and/or selling the product and MacEdition.

[...]

I will keep in mind that the audience is my client, not the companies that produce or sell the product I am reviewing.

We at MacEdition chose to forsake reviews for the longest time because we did not feel we could “do them right” without the proper foundation. The Ethics Statement is the keystone of that foundation; the rest is coming into completion quickly.

Want to be a part of “doing it right”?

As MacEdition moves forward, we will be soliciting both products for review and people to review them. If you think you have what it takes to be a great reviewer, send a note of interest to reviews@macedition.com?subject=reviewer_interest. We’ll forward you the full Ethics Statement with instructions. As the time for doing actual reviews draws close, reviewers will be selected from the pool of qualified applicants.

Want to have your software “reviewed right”? (Hardware will still be in the future, given the difficulties in properly reviewing it.) Let us know by sending a note to the same address (reviews@macedition.com?subject=vendor_product_suggestion) and we’ll let you know how to get your product in the review pipeline.

Don’t fit either of these categories, but want to help anyway? Send your suggestions (reviews@macedition.com?subject=reader_product_suggestion) in.

Who reviews the reviewers?

Why are we doing this? It’s all part of our plan to bring the best of the Professional Mac resources back into being. If there are other features you are looking for, be sure to let us know, since without our readers, we’re nothing.

Will the wait be worth it for software reviews? We sure think so, because when you read one of our glowing reviews, you’ll be able to trust the information behind it. If we trash something, it’ll be because the product deserves it, not because we’re getting ad dollars from a competitor, because even if we are, the reviewer won’t know that - but you will, because we’ll disclose it.

Step by step, feature by feature... follow us back into the land of Professional Mac publishing.

Porruka (a pseudonym) is Editor-in-Chief of MacEdition. Read previous “What the Muses Deign” columns.

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