Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TechCrunch is dead

One of the world's most popular technology blogs, founded in 2005 and recently acquired by AOL, suffered a tragic death sometime last night, to the dismay of many who relied upon it to keep tabs on startups entering and exiting the market. According to an error page that began displaying in place of the site's home page, TechCrunch became instantly obsolete sometime after 2 AM Pacific Time when a site that delivers technology news in real time went live.

The new site, called TechStream, is an amalgamation of asides, tweets, links, video clips, and Q&As which allow readers to actively interact with newsmakers and tech journalists instead of just passively consuming information.

The advent of TechStream means that there's no use for TechCrunch anymore, so AOL is shutting the site down while it develops its own equivalent to TechStream.

Unless you're the kind of person who is easily fooled, you've probably realized that the three preceding paragraphs, along with the title of this post, are fictitious. I know it's not April Fool's Day, but I just couldn't resist poking fun at TechCrunch after several of its authors declared or speculated about the death of the phone call, email, RSS, and the MP3 all in one week.

I dislike over-the-top tech analysis as much I dislike shallow, poll-fueled "horse race" political coverage and colorless color commentary from sports broadcasters, and it seemed to me TechCrunch's recent spree of "X is the new Y" posts warranted an equally silly, tongue-in-cheek reply.

TechCrunch's Alexia Tsotsis prefaced one of these posts by claiming, "In the tech industry saying that something is dead actually means 'it’s on the decline.'"

In my experience, that's not true. When people who work in the industry for a living talk about a product or service being in decline, they just say it's in decline. Occasionally, a hated product like Microsoft's IE 6 will be given a funeral while it's still in use despite being officially dead or discontinued, but this doesn't happen as often as the people who write for TechCrunch seem to think it does.

I don't disagree that many products and services tend to become obsolete as technology evolves. For instance, nobody I know uses a bulky mechanical calculator from the 1960s to solve mathematical equations. There's no reason to. Conversely, many products and services end up coexisting nicely with next-generation alternatives. They don't die or disappear.

I still have an old Apple IIGS that I occasionally use, which has less power and memory than my BlackBerry smartphone. Is the Apple IIGS obsolete? For purposes like typing a newspaper column or creating a spreadsheet, definitely. But some of the old games created for that machine are still fun to play, even though the graphics are ancient. And they have some advantages: for instance, you don't need an Internet connection to play them, as you would for some of EA's recently released games, which can only be rented, not owned.

I disagree with the assertion that phone calls, email, RSS, and MP3s are even in decline, let alone dead. First, while it may be the case that young people prefer texting to communicating by phone, there are still times when it's useful to have a voice conversation. A Skype call is just a more advanced kind of phone call, and Skype is merely a more advanced phone.

Depending on what services you buy from Skype, you can use it to make outgoing calls to old-school phone numbers, and use it to answer incoming calls as well.

VOIP phones, including both software and hardware based variants, are probably going to be much more widespread than analog phones in the future. It's accurate to say that analog phones are in decline (though they may never die out completely). However, it's simply not accurate to say the phone call is dead.

The same goes for email. Instant messaging and text messaging have already been around for years, and they haven't killed off email. Nor are they going to. Email will continue to coexist. Email hasn't suddenly tumbled into an irreversible decline because Facebook confirmed the launch of a revamped messaging interface that offers a more "social" inbox. The availability of email addresses also does not mean death for Gmail, Google's email offering, as many tech pundits have suggested. The notion that Facebook Mail is a "Gmail killer" is ridiculous.

What about RSS? It's not dead either. Millions of websites still offer RSS feeds, and millions of people still make use of those feeds. For many people, Twitter has become more attractive than using an RSS reader for keeping up with news. That doesn't mean nobody uses RSS readers any more, or even that they're in decline. A product or service doesn't die off just because the news media isn't talking about it, or because it's not in use by every single individual in a population.

And finally, the MP3 is certainly still very much alive and in widespread use. I find it hilarious that a TechCrunch writer was pontificating on the death of the MP3 less than a month after one of his fellow contributors declared the compact disc to be dead. Music streaming services like Napster and Rhapsody are already available, and they haven't killed the MP3. Nor would the MP3 die if Apple announced its own streaming service for Mac, Windows, and iOS devices.

I actually prefer the Vorbis digital audio format as opposed to MP3, and it's what I rip my music in. Ironically, this is one of the reasons I still buy albums and singles on compact discs. I like to be able to transcode them into the free and open source format of my choice without losing audio quality. I don't subscribe to any streaming services because I want the freedom to control my own music collection.

I'm hardly alone.

One the people who responded to the "MP3 is dead" post summed up my feelings about TechCrunch's sensationalism problem with a rather nice analogy:
TechCrunch etc., has become like watching the local news at night. “An everyday household item may be killing you . . . find out at 11.” Only to discover that Windex, if ingested in copious amounts, may kill you.

I am taking a TechCrunch holiday, I can’t take the exaggerated, overblown, and shocking headlines that TC seems to love now.
The overwrought headlines are irritating and worthy of ridicule, but they don't mean that everything TechCrunch publishes is garbage. I read TechCrunch to learn about some of the startups that are out there. I could easily do without the philosophical "X is dead" posts, and the fawning coverage of Google and Apple's every move. I have a feeling a lot of other people feel the same way.


Blogger Roger said...

Here is an idea. HFN the lastest press coverage. Hyperbole Free News! Your TechCrunch vacation reminded me of a slight irritation I had with Keith Olbermann. Imagine...he had to revamp his Worst Person bit with Not Really tagged on. That was not it, but when he closed his show with X numbers of days since the Republican takeover, where are the jobs? I thought that was a bit too far. But in light of his recent Special Comment on Ted Koppel's recent WaPo I wish I could find the MP3 of Randi Rhode's take on Ted Koppel in light of her perspective. Oh, I guesse it is "the news has been cancelled", not exactly dead. (I'm serious, did anyone grab it? In any format?)

November 19, 2010 7:47 AM  
Blogger Roger said...


Did anyone catch Randi's rant on Ted Koppel's WaPo piece?

November 19, 2010 7:56 AM  

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