The Wirecutter Slices Through the Internet’s Big, Noisy Gadget Scam

An epiphany about gadgets, blogs, and what people want.

When the iPhone 4S was released earlier this month, gadget junkies flipped out. In part because it was the first big unveiling from new Apple CEO Tim Cook, and in part because it wasn’t the long-lusted-for iPhone 5, tech blogs went wild and analyzed every little thing about the event, from the screen size to the new Siri digital assistant to who put pictures of it on the internet first.

What if you’re merely wondering whether you ought to buy it or not?

That’s where Brian Lam comes in. The former editorial director of Gizmodo, Gawker Media’s 40-plus-posts-a-day gadget blog (and one of the editors involved in the great iPhone 4 prototype leak), Lam experienced something of a mid-career crisis. It led him to a trenchant critique of the gadget industry and the journalists who cover it. Part systemic critique, part warning to the blog generation, Lam is throwing page views overboard.

“I just don’t want to spend my 30s the way I spent my 20s, doing this pop content, “ he says. “My main problem is with the noise. You have these publications that are getting investments, that are growing so fast, but it is tons of noise, slideshows, op-eds all the time. I believe in personal technology, I do, but I don’t believe you need to read 60 posts a day on a gadget blog to get that service.”

To solve the problem, Lam launched a new site, Wirecutter, designed to separate the wheat—clarity about the role of consumer technology—from the chaff—hundreds of posts detailing every rumor and iterative update in the gadget world.

Tech companies, Lam says, are driven by market pressure and internal incentives to create “15 tvs instead of three. It’s like a big scam, people have to make traffic and people are trying to sell gadgets.”

Lam remembers reviewing a high-end Sony television in 2007 that was wildly expensive, but dropped in price over the next few years. Sony analysts would ask him not to compare their newer low-end tvs to the older version because it’s picture quality and value far outstripped the newer models. “The true cadence of gadgets,” he concluded, “is not represented in the blog flow that’s reverse chronological.”

His new site, then, is largely a list of items ("the leaderboard") with titles like “The Good TV I’d Get” or “The WiFi Router You Want.” Lam’s goal is to build on his experience as a gadget reviewer and editor with a large network of tech journalists to handle all the painful parts of the shopping experience—research—and let consumers have all the fun. The Wirecutter's recommendations won't always be cutting-edge, but, he hopes, will be the best value, the right fit for the right person, or simply what he'd buy.

But in a media world built on noise–the slideshows, overblown headlines, and inanity that drives those lucrative clicks—Lam has had to make some sacrifices, cutting his cost of living by 70 percent, a move that included trading his newish car for an old Toyota truck, renting his house on Airbnb, and sleeping in a Vanagon. All that has allowed him to make his labor of love a reality.

Despite his preparations for the lifestyle of a low-intensity blogger, the site has the potential to make money. The Awl family of blogs partners with Lam to provide the infrastructure and advertising for his site: a mix of sponsored posts, banner advertising and commission-driven click through links to purchase the gadgets Lam and his friends recommend.

Choire Sicha, another Gawker Media alum and the co-proprietor of the Awl family, says the tech space sits smack in the middle the venn diagram of lucrative advertising and reader interest, but until Lam came along, it seemed hard to find a way to approach the topic in a way that didn’t, well, suck.

“Tech is a super-crowded space, it's a real page view churn business, and it all gets kind of unfun really fast. Which isn't our cup of tea!” Sicha says. “We all thought Brian's ideas about how to do this, in his groovy laid-back way, made sense as a way to address this thing that people like while also having a good time and not being boring, which is the worst thing imaginable.”

Lam, for all his cynicism about the gadget industry, still hasn’t forgotten what makes consumer tech so great in the first place, calling the site’s occasional post on amazing things, “tech as magic."

Magic best served slowly, with a dash of restraint.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Catherine Winters

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

Yes, you read that right, "history of polling."

Keep Reading Show less
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.


In the category of "claims to fame nobody wants," the United States can now add "exporter of white supremacist ideology" to its repertoire. Super.

Russell Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, made this claim in a briefing at The Washington Institute in Washington, D.C. "For almost two decades, the United States has pointed abroad at countries who are exporters of extreme Islamist ideology," Travers said. "We are now being seen as the exporter of white supremacist ideology. That's a reality with which we are going to have to deal."

Keep Reading Show less

Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News