Life as a Reviewer for The Gadgeteer

Do you ever read The Gadgeteer and other tech blog sites and think “That’d be a cool job – people send you free things, you review them, then keep them. Sounds cushy to me!”. Well I know I did at one time, but over the last 10 months my view has changed a bit :) Read on…..

How exactly does a guy in Tasmania, Australia end up writing for a site based in Indiana, USA? Well, I’ve been reading Julie’s site since the late 90’s. What I always liked about the site was:

  • that reviews were done over a long period of time. Working in IT, I see too many reviews that say things like “I love this device, in the one day we had it in our office…..”  Problems ,whether physical or operational, aren’t gonna show themselves in this sort of time frame,  and these reviews are not based on real life use. To me, in the end benchmarks mean nothing – it’s all about user experience. In addition, I’m sure that for these sort of short-term reviews, companies “modify” their devices to show them in their best light, remove superfluous software that would normally ship, ship higher-spec models etc.
  • The Gadgeteer always had “normal” people (I use that term loosely :)) doing the reviews. Not people who are paid professionally to write for magazines or web sites. Plain old “Joe Citizens”.
  • The Gadgeteer, as a “smaller” site, has a nice community of readers. There’s some great interaction between the writers and regular readers in the comment sections.  It’s like a family :)

I think I started some conversation with Julie about a product, and from there ended up writing a few news items, and from there………..

It’s worth noting  here that writing for The Gadgeteer isn’t a paying or full time job for any of the contributors, so when we agreed for me to start contributing, did I really know what I was in for ?

WordPress

The first stumbling block for me was learning to use WordPress. I’d never even considered blogging before (mainly because I didn’t really think I had that much interesting to say), and as such was starting WordPress from scratch. Of course, with its (mainly) WSYWIG interface, it’s not that hard to use. Since joining, I’ve come from WordPress newbie to WordPress competent. I’ve even redesigned a small website I had going into WordPress.

Lesson one: WordPress is easy to use.

What’s involved?

Working for The Gadgeteer to me involves 2 main tasks ( and Julie’s or other Gadgeteers’ views may differ :) )

1. News items
Each day I use Feedly to read around about 40+ RSS feeds. Admittedly some of them aren’t related to gadgets and are local news or sports pages. This is something I did even before writing for The Gadgeteer,  I suppose it’s the modern-day equivalent of reading the newspaper every morning.

News items are just interesting snippets with a 250 word restriction on them, the stable diet on The Gadgeteer to keep readers up to date with interesting products and to keep them coming back. Let’s face it, you can’t do 3 full reviews a day.

The decision then is what news articles would interest both myself and readers on the Gadgeteer.

For me there’s a few items I can automatically knock off my list:

  • US-centric devices (like phones or deals)
  • Apple products. There’s not a day goes by when there’s not 10+ articles on new Apple third-party products or programs, Being an Android Fanboi, these really don’t interest me. I do know however that many Gadgeteer readers are interested in Apple products, and if I do find something that is actually REALLY neat I will stoop so low as to write up a news item. :)

Once I find something that I consider publish-worthy, then because I don’t like just paraphrasing other tech blog sites, I’ll always make sure that I go to the “source” before writing a news item. If you’re just going to just reproduce another site’s information, why would readers want to read your article (besides the potential legal implications :) )

All news items are vetted by Julie before being published.

It’s interesting, you’ll put a news item up thinking it’ll generate heaps of comments and yet you get none, then other products that are simple and fun, and in your head more a “filler” article, and you get a heap of comments.

The good thing, a news item normally only takes between 5 to 20 minutes to generate.

Lesson two: There’s no second guessing the readers :)

2. Reviews

Reviews are initiated one of three ways:

  • Julie gets heaps of requests from manufacturers to review their items, so she often sends out an “Are you interested in reviewing…….”  email to the team. Once again, many of these are Apple peripherals, US-only, or just of absolutely no interest to me. You can put your hand up for those that do interest you, but that’s still no guarantee you’ll be “the chosen one”. The other issue I have is that some manufacturers won’t send to Australia.
  • If you find an item you’d like to review, you can ask Julie if it’s appropriate and she sends out an email asking about a review sample.
  • You’ve bought something yourself that you consider review-worthy :)

How do you decided what features to write about? Do people care that it contains the latest super-duper Mark VII veeblefetzer, and do they care that the  veeblefetzer will improve the color saturation? It’s a fine line what is too much or too little information. In the end you have to make a judgement call on what you’d be interested in if you were reading the review. From my own personal perspective, I don’t want to write a review that’s full of speeds and feeds, there’s enough of those reviews out on the net already and probably written better than I can. It’s more about the experience.

Reviews aren’t a one day job. Reviews generally take weeks to compile. This obviously has the bonus of meaning that you’re actually using the review item over that time, and often ‘issues’ with that product will reveal themselves as time goes on.  I normally start hard and write most of the most obvious parts of the review, and then as time proceeds ,tweak and change the review to reflect the true situation.

You need to get good photos, make sure all your information is right, and you really  have to make sure your spelling and grammar is correct, as before any of our news or reviews are published, they’re scrutinised by Janet. :)

Lesson three: When writing a review, put yourself in the readers shoes.

Post Review

Post review for me, gadgets  fall into 4 categories:

  • Yep, reviewed, put it on the shelf
  • Yep, reviewed, use it once in a while
  • Yep, reviewed, use it everyday
  • Yep, reviewed, need to buy more peripherals for it :)

Obviously it’d be great if all your review products fell in to categories 3 and 4, but you’ve gotta put up with the good and the “bad” :P

Unbiased?

I’ve noticed a few comments on the site lately asking how we can do unbiased reviews given that we’re supplied the gadgets by the manufacturer.  It’s actually not that hard.  Pointing out the good and bad parts of a product doesn’t have to be about a case of extremes.  You don’t completely slam a product, and if it’s constructive criticism, that surely can’t be a bad thing. Suppliers of review products are advised when The Gadgeteer review of their product goes up. From my perspective, if a supplier reads (and hopefully comments on) your review (whether good or bad), that’s fantastic because it means that they’re hopefully going to take your feedback and create a better product in the long run for the end-user.

For me I suppose that’s part of the job, helping suppliers manufacture better products.  I’ve done reviews where I’ve actually found errors in the user manual, fed this back to manufacturer who says “nobody’s ever pointed that out before, we’ll fix the manual” AND fixed it. :)  I’ve done reviews where I’ve spend literally days working through issues with the product to find out what the issue is (that’s the ex-techo in me coming out, you never want to be beaten by a piece of silicon:),  which again I’ve fed back to the manufacturer. I’ve even formed “friendships” with some of the suppliers based on our interactions over a review.

Lesson four: Be constructive not destructive.

Criticism

Lastly, at times you do have to put up with some criticism from readers about your reviews. At these times it’s worth remembering that reviews are only one person’s opinion.  You really can’t take the criticism to heart.

Lesson five: Reviews are subjective no matter how much you would like them to be objective. It’s one person’s opinion.

Conclusion

“Working” for The Gadgeteer isn’t all good times.  Yes you do get to review some cool gadgets, and you do end up with them, but there is a fairly big investment in time. To me, besides the cool products you can get to review, it’s a good “hobby”, something to take your mind off your everyday job. It’s been good for my written Engish skills, and I’ve learnt WordPress, which I’m sure won’t go astray. In the end though, in correspondence I always let Julie know “I’m still having fun”, and to me that’s the key.

Lesson six: If <having fun>then <keep writing> else < end> :)

Posted in: Articles, Miscellaneous

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Julie June 29, 2012, 11:10 am

    Ian you did a fantastic job of explaining the review process that we go through. It’s crazy how many people email me asking how they can be part of the team. I know that they mainly just want free stuff and don’t really understand all the “work” behind it. Maybe they’ll read this article and understand a little better now. Thanks!

    1
  • Heather June 29, 2012, 11:32 am

    Really nice to see the depth that is put into reviews and the gadgeteer and the work that is required as people often forget that there is legwork required.
    A great article for future bloggers to read.

    2
  • Larry G June 29, 2012, 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the insight… nice job!!!

    3
  • Bill Henderson June 29, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Great piece, Ian. One thing I will add is that (for me), it is far easier to write what I don’t like than what I do like about a product. I’m not sure why that is, but it was true in the 80s and 90s when I did music reviews for the newspaper when I was employed there.
    And Ian is correct, we spend hours with a product usually before we even begin to write about it. It is hard work, but also, fun!

    4
  • Jeff Mac June 29, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Great wrap up on this Ian. One of the hardest things for me is a review on a really bad product that was sent to me by somebody I really like. The piece of gear sits on a chair and sort of haunts me…

    I have been known to send these back without writing a review, but at some point you have to tell the brutal truth as you experience it.

    5
  • Julie June 29, 2012, 2:17 pm

    @Jeff Mac Writing a harsh review on a product from a company you have a good relationship with can be difficult, but 9 times out of 10, the company will still thank me for the review. I’ve had only a few times where the company sending the item has gotten nasty with me about a bad review. One time a company threathened to sue us…

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  • Jeff Mac June 29, 2012, 2:57 pm

    @julie Ouch…threatened to sue? It seems to me that your disclaimers on the site are really clear. I am more than open to corrections or clarifications but that sounds more like intimidation!

    Products are often somebody’s baby and I have seen that add to the emotional impact…

    7
  • Julie June 29, 2012, 3:11 pm

    @Jeff Yep… this was years and years and years ago though. Back in the first age of styluses. :)

    8
  • Mark June 29, 2012, 3:34 pm

    @ Ian
    “There’s not a day goes by when there’s not 10+ articles on new Apple third-party products or programs, Being an Android Fanboi, these really don’t interest me. I do know however that many Gadgeteer readers are interested in Apple products, and if I do find something that is actually REALLY neat I will stoop so low as to write up a news item.”

    I couldn’t agree more. And I have to say, that I have become a little less interested in this site because of all of the products I see pushed here with an “i” in front of them.
    I know that they are popular so I usually just keep my trap shut and move on.

    Having said that. this is probably the only site that I have been informed of products that I actually ended up buying and loving! (or not loving)

    9
  • KRYPTlK June 29, 2012, 9:24 pm

    I enjoy the reviews here, and I say thanks to all the reviewers for taking the time to put them up. I have been following this site for the last five or six years, I believe it began when I stumbled across a review for the Maxpedition Versapack. I bought that bag based on that review, and loved it. Since then I have purchased many items The Gadgeteer has reviewed. I have also recommended this site to friends, who in turn have made purchases based on reviews here. From Tom Bihn bags, to Maxpedition bags, to Ogio Bags, (Notice the trend?) I have a closet full of items that fill a specific need. I’m sure you reviewers take your share of criticism, but keep in mind for every person that hates your review, there’s likely another that was just introduced to his or her new favorite thing because you took the time to review a product for them. Thanks again, and keep them coming.

    10
  • Ian Lim June 30, 2012, 2:42 am

    @Julie – Hope I haven’t scared any prospective contributors away :)

    @Jeff – A company asked me to review their app that I’d actually already bought and then returned because it wouldn’t work on any of my Android devices. The review that I wrote that made them think I might be interested in their product was based on the product I found after looking for an alternative for theirs. That one’s on the “backburner” at the moment :)

    @Mark – I’m trying to even out the iReviews and iNews on The Gadgeteer but lets face it, iProducts are the “in thing”. In fact my 14 year old son just bought…shock…horror…an iPad today. Where did I go wrong as a father? :P ( And no, you won’t see me reviewing iProducts in the future)

    @Kryptik – I suspect there’s lots of Gadgeteers out there who follow the same “trend” as yours (myself included) :)

    11
  • Ronald June 30, 2012, 5:35 am

    Thanks for the great reviews on this site, that for all the writers.

    I’ve been with this site since the 90’s an bought or didn’t buy several products based on the excellent reviews by Julie and her team.

    Nice that it’s not US products only, because I’m in The Netherlands.

    Keep it up!

    12
  • Michael July 1, 2012, 1:11 am

    Thanks for the background to the whole process. I’ve always enjoyed this site. Also from the early “stylusocene” or was it the early “palmtriocene”. I haven’t bought much based on reviews here but my wife has a few extra laptop bags she wouldn’t otherwise have had if I hadn’t spotted them here. Can’t decide if that is a recommendation for the site or not :-)

    Michael

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  • Steve July 6, 2012, 5:11 am

    I’m a journo who reviews gadgets and cars for a living
    This was a great description of the anatomy of a review and written in a really vulnerable and accessible way.

    Nice job Ian.

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