TechCrunch, FasterWeb, Lack of Proper Journalism

Warning: I’m not editing this or re-reading it after writing it. This is a rant though I hope it contains something useful in it.

TechCrunch, a popular tech. news website, posted an article by MG Siegler on how “FasterWeb Wants To Make The Entire Web Up to Ten Times Faster In 2010”. FasterWeb is a technology startup that is funded by a venture capital firm called YL Ventures. The article is brief and is not investigative whatsoever, there is hardly meat on the bones of it.

This is the trouble with tech. news. All of the news sources are shit. They are complete and utter shit and even when they contain a reader-worthy gem, they inevitably retreat to their usual shit writing. The majority of tech news sites are tabloids and are made up of gossip columns idolizing the celebrities of the next tech. fad or the current fad of Web 2.0 and “cloud computing”. Many tech. news articles read as press releases and this latest article on TechCrunch is the perfect example of this. Even the journals that deal with serious subjects, such as business enterprise or academic software and ideas, are filled with journalists who are clueless or editors who are equally clueless and lack any standards whatsoever.

Myself and many others can hardly find journals and magazines and news sources worth reading. All that is left are individual articles. We are forced to pick and choose when a respectable news source would have hired a decent editor to do that for us. Alex Payne stated in an article published on 3 March 2009, titled “Towards Better Technology Journalism” that the problem is that developers are not talented at writing and that journalists typically are not experts in the domain,

How can journalists without any engineering expertise possibly hope to keep up? Simply tapping expert sources isn’t enough. A reporter can’t simply string together quotes from PhDs and CTOs and end up with something cogent, accurate, and informative to a non-technical reader.

Payne pointed out flaws in two examples and here I will do the same for this recent example of tech. journalism failure.

In this specific instance, the Siegler clearly has little domain expertise. This can be seen when he writes,

As the web matures, it’s also getting more complex. Yet much of it is still fundamentally based on things like HTML which are 30 years old.

The documents of the Web are based on HTML, the underlying infrastructure is based on HTTP. HTML is not 30 years old, it is just shy of 20 years old.1 This may seem like minor details, but they are important to this article since it discusses improving the performance of the Web.

A new startup, FasterWeb, aims to bring these old technologies up to speed — as it were — making the web faster, by optimizing the old standards for doing new things.

By using the words “new” and “old”, Siegler is positioning new as positive and old as negative, thus positioning FasterWeb as doing something favourable when in fact they are doing nothing or at least not showing their results,

One VC firm, YL Ventures, believes that it can. And they’ve seen it in action, so we’ll just have to take their word for it, for now.

So how does FasterWeb claim to work? Leitersdorf wouldn’t go into the details, saying that’s the company’s secret, but he would say that it uses 45 different techniques to optimize the web.

This sounds like blatant PR material, aimed at selling the company and their product (which may not exist) to venture capitalists and other investors. Why is Siegler talking to Leitersdorf at all? Leitersdorf is a managing partner at YL Ventures, is a financial person, not a technical person, not a hardware engineer, not a software developer: he does not know what he is talking about when it comes to technology.

This is where the methods of investigative journalism should be used. Siegler should hunt down the technical people working at FasterWeb and conduct anonymous interviews. He should ask about how exactly it works, or ask for more hints and clues about how it works at particular points. TechCrunch has enough money to wine and dine people and to bribe them into giving answers about a possibly important technological development.2

Failing that, the article could appear somewhat neutral and more informative with the author quoting several more sources. It would not be a good solution, but it would bring this article up to the standards of newspaper technology articles.

Next, Siegler discusses the business model,

The business model for the project seems sound as well. FasterWeb has a multi-pronged approach depending on the situation of the website or ISP. That means it can either charge a one-time fee, or do a revenue sharing model. “What we found out as a VC fund going into this business is that by selling this to websites, it’s going to increase their revenues. And these sites are willing to spend 20-30% of their increase in revenues on our solution,” Leitersdorf says.

Why do we care about their multi-pronged approach if their product has not launched and if they do not wish to talk about it at all? Furthermore, the numbers given by Leitersdorf should be called into question by Siegler. It is too bad that Siegler seems to think it his job to simply transcribe what Leitersdorf is saying and then to approve of it or not express his own opinion about it.

He also notes that in their research, YL only found two companies even come close to doing what these guys are doing. But Leitersdorf declined to name them.

Siegler should conduct his own research to find out the names of those two companies and contact them for interviews, or he should try and get information from an anonymous source within the company.

If the subject of the article is boring, then it may not even be worth reporting on. If it must be reported, the article should contain less information and be buried as quickly as possible. Make it easier for the reader to ignore the article and to move on to more interesting articles on your blog.

There are other examples of shit articles in other technology news sources, but this one pissed me off the most. For all of TechCrunch’s desires to become a proper business/technology news source, they continue to publish shit articles with little useful information and articles worshipping the shallowness of Silicon Valley.

  1. The first draft specification was published in 1991 and the first web browser, created by Tim Berners-Lee was WorldWideWeb which was released on 26 February 1991. The Internet, and its predecessor ARPANet, are much older than the Web by more than a decade. The first ARPANet message was sent on 29 October 1969.
  2. If it isn’t important, then why is this company reported on at all?