It’s now been eight months since the Engadget Exodus, in which a large group of key editors at the tech blog fled the many tentacles of The AOL Way to form The Verge, a sparkling new tech/lifestyle website. While I still visit Engadget on a regular basis, I still can’t help but feel that the soul of the site left when Joshua Topolsky decide to leave. Engadget still claims a much larger audience than The Verge (which turns a month old tomorrow), that it’s under a different editorial direction now doesn’t mean that it can maintain its pace. Who knows, maybe The Verge will only find a niche spot in the blogosphere despite the large, blank checks that SBNation is writing to build it. So what is it about Engadget that makes it feels so normal now?
A senior editor who stepped up to the captain’s chair after Topolsky and crew left (and appearing on an Engadget Show demo in full Star Trek: The Next Generation garb), Tim originally seemed like a solid choice for the position. His authoritative opinions on a lot of tech fields, including electric vehicles, was a great addition. But Tim’s dry personality and editorial decisions have removed a lot of the flavor from the site.
Honestly, the biggest reason why I became such a huge fan of Engadget was the witty banter between Topolsky and editors Miller and Patel. That continues on the Vergecast, but Tim has turned the Engadget’s shows into straight-forward, no-nonsense discussions that simply aren’t as enjoyable. If I want to hear standard tech discussion, I’ll buy a phone and talk with Kelly, or I’ll just read the web site. The podcasts simply don’t complement the site at all anymore.
The Engadget Show
While Topolsky was a bigger fan of esoteric topics, like consulting professors about net neutrality, Tim has admittedly spiced up the format in strange new ways that don’t quite work. For one, his on-screen lack of personality means a lot of weirdly cued segments in which he talks directly to the camera. And it’s weird. Segments are a lot splashier now and carry a lot more production value, but now they feel like Discovery Channel productions. Is that bad? No, but it lacks the innovation of what Chad Mumm is doing at The Verge. Speaking of which…
Inconsistent Video Idents
Like Gizmodo, Engadget’s hands-on gadget videos are done by a dozen people spread across the country (nay, the world!) that vary in quality from ‘meh’ to ‘okay’ using whatever camera they have lying around in whatever lighting conditions they have available. It feels incredibly lo-fi considering The Verge has a unified look across all their videos and not just in the book ends, but in the interstitial stuff, including title cards.
While I’m not a huge fan of Tim Stevens’ work on the site, especially his dismissal of review scores, I know a huge reason why Engadget has lost its appeal to me is Aol’s SEO-targeted journalism. Rather than embrace good journalism, Engadget’s parent company wants their sites to emphasize topics that people can find easily. It’s why Topolsky and his crew left in the first place and it’s ultimately what will destroy Aol as its content becomes more superficial and it’ll be entirely about hits and marketshare rather than compelling content. Aol can cut much bigger checks than SBNation can for The Verge, but Topolsky and his crew seem infinitely more resourceful with what they get.
UPDATE: Tim Stevens has mailed us with his response to the article:
[…]Of what you wrote, the big thing I took issue with the notion that AOL is in some way shaping the way we run the site. That’s absolutely not true, and never has been. We choose the topics, we choose the headlines, we choose the content of our posts. Nobody at AOL has any say regarding any of that, nor have they ever.You mentioned “SEO-targeted journalism.” What little I know about SEO was taught to me by Josh T himself, and I know that there was nobody at AOL forcing SEO down his throat. The biggest thing he would always remind people? Always, always, always have the product name first in the hed of your post, so it’s “Transformer Prime review” or “LG Nitro hands-on.” These are rules you see used over at Verge as well.Finally, I just wanted to be clear that the dudes who left left for their own reasons. It wasn’t due to AOL trying to shape the editorial nature of the site. If you want to hate on AOL, trust me, there are plenty of reasons to do so. But this is not one of them.Anyway, thanks for taking the time to email,-tim